After settler rioting over Huwara attack, Lapid says government has ‘lost control’

Gantz warns Israel is facing ‘a security disaster,’ accuses far-right coalition members of ‘fueling terrorism’; PM says ‘only’ security forces should ‘avenge’ deadly shooting

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Head of the Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on February 27, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Head of the Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on February 27, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid on Monday slammed the government as having “lost control” over Israel’s security and its own internal functioning, a day after Jewish settlers rioted in response to West Bank terror.

“Two months after the establishment of a full-on right-wing government,” Lapid said, borrowing the far-right’s language, “the scope of [terror] attacks is increasing, terrorists are raising their heads, and the army is confused and does not understand its chain of command.”

Lapid blamed both settler violence and the precarious security situation on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, labeling it as “weak” and saying that internal fights over security policy have led to “anarchy.”

Netanyahu, speaking shortly after Lapid’s comments, said that “only” Israeli security forces should “avenge” the deadly terror attack in Huwara.

Sunday’s shooting, in which a Palestinian gunman killed two Israeli brothers, raised the number of terror victims to 13 since the start of 2023. Afterwards, Jewish settlers went on an unprecedented rampage in Huwara, during which homes and cars were set ablaze and a Palestinian was killed.

With less than a month until the Ramadan holiday, during which Israeli-Palestinian tensions flare regularly, regional and international attention has focused on reducing the already-heightened violence between Israel and Palestinians.

Echoing Lapid’s message, National Unity party leader Benny Gantz warned that Israel is facing “a security disaster,” exacerbated by parts of the government that he charged are “fueling terrorism.”

Mourners react during the funeral of brothers Yagel Yaniv, 19, and Hillel Yaniv, 21, at the military cemetery in Jerusalem on February 27, 2023, a day after they were shot dead as they drove through Huwara in the West Bank. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP)

“Nowadays, there is no government in Israel – there is chaos,” said Gantz at the outset of a Knesset faction meeting.

“Those accused of terrorism and incitement, sitting at the government table and in the cabinet under Netanyahu’s auspices, are harming the deep security interests of the State of Israel,” he added, in an apparent reference to far-right ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.

“I am deeply concerned that we are facing a security disaster, and parts of this government are fueling terrorism,” Gantz continued, while slamming Netanyahu for “dragging us into a difficult and dangerous security reality.”

A Palestinian man walks by scorched cars, including some that been taken off the road for spare parts, in the town of Huwara, near the West Bank city of Nablus, February 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Speaking at a faction meeting of his Yesh Atid party, Lapid said the government had “lost control.”

“What happened last night is complete anarchy,” he said.

“This anarchy is created because in this government, everyone has their own policy,” Lapid added, noting deep disagreements between Netanyahu’s Likud and his far-right partners on how to handle West Bank policy, leading ministers to denounce the government’s own attempts at diplomacy.

Israeli troops conduct scans in the West Bank town of Huwara for a gunman who killed two Israelis, February 26, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Lapid said that far-right police minister Itamar Ben Gvir “has one policy, [Bezalel] Smotrich, the political arm of the [radical settler] hilltop youth, has a second policy” as an independent minister in the Defense Ministry, while Defense Minister Yoav “Gallant has a third policy and Netanyahu is weak and unable to put them in their place.”

“The scope of [terror] attacks is increasing, terrorists are raising their heads, and the army is confused and does not understand the chain of command.”

He also said that “Netanyahu and Likud formed a government with people walking in [far-right] marches, singing, ‘Burn their villages,’” referring to a popular far-right refrain about Arabs. “So now these people have burned a village.”

“Instead of the security forces pursuing the murderers of Hallel and Yagel,” the two terror victims, “they are being forced to deal with Jewish terrorism.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, center, speaks to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir after a Knesset vote in Jerusalem, February 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Ahmad Tibi called Sunday’s events “a pogrom,” in remarks opening the predominantly Arab Hadash-Ta’al alliance’s Knesset faction meeting.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, vowed that the security forces would “avenge” the Huwara attack.

“God will avenge their blood and we will avenge their blood,” the prime minister told the Knesset floor on Monday, specifying that “when I mean us, I mean only Israel’s defense power. The IDF and the security forces. They know how to do this, they do it, they take into account everyone who raises their hand against us.”

“We are in a continuing fight. Unfortunately, there will be more terror attacks,” he added.

In addition to the riots in Huwara, Jewish settlers made an effort to reestablish a wildcat outpost on the contentious Evyatar hilltop Sunday night, but were quickly evacuated by security forces.

Gantz said that the compromise the previous government reached on potentially approving Evyatar should be implemented, but that settlers cannot “take the law into [their] own hands.”

“There’s a need to stand by the agreement that we made,” he said in response to reporters’ questions about Evyatar.

Screen capture from video of security forces evacuating the illegal Evyatar outpost, February 27, 2023. (Twitter. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law.)

In his former position as defense minister, Gantz helped reach the Evyatar compromise, in which settlers agreed to vacate the illegal outpost. In exchange, the government was to conduct a land survey. If the results showed Evyatar to be built on state land and not private Palestinian land, the deal stipulated, the setters would be allowed to return.

Alongside the events in Huwara on Sunday, Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials discussed lowering West Bank tensions, during a meeting convened by Jordan and also attended by Egypt and the United States.

A joint communique issued after the meeting in Aqaba stated that Israel committed to freezing West Bank settlement for a number of months, which Netanyahu has since denied.

“What is happening in Jordan will end in Tehran,” said Gantz. “The important summit turned into a strategic mishap – the prime minister humiliated the Americans, Egypt, and Jordanians. It’s both cowardice and lawlessness.”

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