The IDF Central Command on Thursday expanded the municipal powers of Hebron’s Jewish settlers in a move that officials said would strengthen the community in the divided West Bank city.
Gen. Roni Noma signed the order, which was described as a technical issue by the army. However, anti-settler watchdog groups said the move was designed to deepen discrimination in the city.
“I am determined to continue to promote settlement so that it will flourish and thrive, and I will do so with responsibility and discretion,” said Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
In a Wednesday statement after news of the order was leaked, the Jewish community thanked Liberman and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked for their roles in signing the order, which they said would allow for the “regulation of normal life and municipal services.”
Under the Hebron Protocol signed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January 1997, the West Bank’s most populous city was divided into two sections. H1 includes 80 percent of the city and lies under full Palestinian control. In H2, 500 Israeli settlers live surrounded by 40,000 Palestinians.
While the section is under Israeli military control and the four Jewish neighborhoods are heavily guarded by the IDF, civil issues beyond the personal property of the settlers were handled by the Palestinian Authority
Thursday’s order transfers the responsibility for the settlers infrastructure needs, including electricity, road pavings, and sewage from the Palestinians to the Hebron municipal committee under the jurisdiction of Israel’s Ministry of Interior.
Community spokesman Noam Arnon told The Times of Israel that the “level of investment from the Palestinian authorities had been basic, at best.”
The Peace Now settler watchdog group criticized the announcement. “By granting an official status to the Hebron settlers, the Israeli government is formalizing the apartheid system in the city,” the group said in a statement.
Peace Now said the move was a reward to the settlers who had recently been told they would be evicted from a disputed house in Hebron, calling it ״another illustration of the policy of compensating the most extreme settlers for their illegal actions.”