Netanyahu spoke out after the IDF’s evacuation of a newly establish settler outpost, a move that was met with contention by some of the coalition.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government conference at the PM’s office in Jerusalem on January 22, 2023. / (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Illegal Palestinian and settler building in Area C of the West Bank won’t be tolerated, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as he continued to set the red lines of his new government when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We came to power with a clear promise to change direction and to fight against illegal Palestinian construction,” Netanyahu told the Likud faction in the Knesset on Monday.
“This does not mean that we will allow illegal Israeli construction,” he continued
He spoke out after the IDF’s Friday evacuation of the Or Haim outpost which had been created less than 24 hours earlier created a political crisis within his coalition.
There is “wall-to-wall agreement on these two points,” Netanyahu said, adding that heads of the coalition agreed to these principled points in a meeting.
That consensus, he said, “negates the hope of our political opponents that there is [coalition] disintegration here – we are cohesive, strong and united, also in this matter,” Netanyahu said.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meets with members of the Yesha Council, January 23, 2023. (credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
A dispute of power
But his words skipped over the point of dispute, chief among the issue of who controls enforcement action against the outposts.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich holds that the coalition agreement gives him full authority over civilian issues in Area C of the West Bank, including construction authorization and enforcement of illegal construction.
“We came to power with a clear promise to change direction and to fight against illegal Palestinian construction. This does not mean that we will allow illegal Israeli construction.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Smotrich, who heads the Religious Zionist Party would execute that control under the authority of his second position, which is as a minister in the Defense Ministry.
He ordered the IDF’s Civil Administration not to evacuate the outpost on Friday only to have Defense Minister Yoav Gallant override him to raze the outpost’s five modular homes.
On Monday he said that all civilian matters in Area C of the West Bank, where all the settlements are located, must be removed from military control and placed under the authority of relevant ministries in Israel, a move that could be viewed as de facto annexation.
Gallant meets with Yesha Council
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said that overall authority for civilian matters including construction issues must remain in his purview.
He expanded on those views when he met Monday with the Yesha Council.
MK’s Bezalel Smotrich and Yoav Galant at a plenum session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 14, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
“The battle for the C areas is a central issue,” Gallant said. But he clarified that in that area, which is already under IDF military and civilian control, the army is “responsible both on security and on civilian matters.”
“We must make sure that we control the situation and control law and order,” he said.
Yesha Council head Shlomo Neeman, who also chairs the Gush Etzion Regional Council said that he backed Smotrich’s assertion that civilian issues in Area C must be handled by the relevant Israeli government ministries, rather than the army.
“The coalition agreements signed between the parties is an important achievement by the new government. One of the most significant elements of that achievement the reform of the Civil Administration,” Neeman said.
“The lives of the Israeli residents in Judea and Samaria must be managed by government ministries as befits a democratic country and not by uniformed officers,” he added.
Neeman said that the issue of construction in Area C, which he referred to as Judea and Samaria, was about determining where the country’s final borders will be.
The Israeli Right holds that Area C should be part of the country’s final borders, while the Palestinian Authority and the international community believe that it should be part of the final borders of a Palestinian state.
Neeman told Gallant that illegal Palestinian building in Area C was part of a move by the PA to seize control of that territory.
He asked him to “prioritize the PA’s illegal takeover Area C” adding that “this is a war on the country’s borders.’
Neeman also asked Gallant to advance plans for settlement construction.”There are thousands of housing units that are awaiting approval. We ask you to continue the development and construction in Judea and Samaria that was halted by the previous government,” he said.