ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 54

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Ben Gvir pans government W. Bank policy: ‘This isn’t what we wanted, it can’t go on’

In warning to Netanyahu, national security minister says his party joined the coalition for it to be ‘completely right-wing’ and not ‘a government that’s only strong against Jews’

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (right) and Limor Son Har-Melech speak after government allows uprooting of illegally planted orchard near Shiloh in the West Bank, February 15, 2023. (Screenshot/Channel 12; Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (right) and Limor Son Har-Melech speak after government allows uprooting of illegally planted orchard near Shiloh in the West Bank, February 15, 2023. (Screenshot/Channel 12; Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir declared his disappointment Wednesday with the right-wing government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after it uprooted trees planted illegally by a settler in the West Bank.

Standing alongside Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech, who earlier said she was sexually assaulted by a police officer during the altercation near the Shiloh settlement in the northern West Bank, Ben Gvir said: “We joined the government on the basis of a commitment that it would be a completely right-wing government, and this policy cannot continue.”

“There were serious incidents at Shiloh, including a shocking attack against my friend Limor Son Har-Melech,” the far-right minister said in a video posted to social media (police have insisted the MK was treated respectfully as she attempted to prevent them from carrying out their orders).

“A fully right-wing government is not supposed to refrain from demolishing Khan al-Ahmar due to diplomatic considerations or avoid touching [illegally built] buildings in East Jerusalem because of this or that policy consideration. A fully right-wing government cannot be a government that’s only strong against Jews,” Ben Gvir said.

Last week the government, for the ninth time, delayed the evacuation of the illegally built Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank, despite a 2018 High Court decision.

The evacuation of the village has been pushed off repeatedly for four years, largely owing to the significant public interest in the affair from human rights activists, pro-Palestinian groups and the European Union. Multiple bodies have warned that moving it could constitute a war crime, as displacement of a population under occupation is forbidden under international law.

View of the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ben Gvir also reportedly clashed with Netanyahu and police chief Kobi Shabtai on Tuesday after the pair rebuffed the Otzma Yehudit chair, who wanted to demolish structures built illegally by Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

In Wednesday’s video, Son Har-Melech said she felt “disappointed” by the government’s decision to allow the orchard to be uprooted.

“To see time after time how the right-wing policies aren’t coming to fruition in reality, and the selective enforcement of the law against Jews, when Arabs are taking over, building and planting under every tree. But for us, every time a stone is moved, immediately law enforcement comes, time after time,” she said.

Earlier, Son Har-Melech alleged that a policeman sexually assaulted her as she and other right-wing activists attempted to thwart security forces from removing the illegally planted orchard.

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech surrounded by police as she protests the removal of a West Bank orchard on February 15, 2023. (Screencapture/Twitter; Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

She told Hebrew media that while officers huddled around her, forming a human chain, one “did something that is completely forbidden” as she attempted to duck under a police officer’s arms.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is also a minister in the defense ministry, denounced the operation as “an injustice that screams out to Heaven” and demanded that Netanyahu transfer authority over the Civil Administration to him immediately in accordance with coalition agreements, which he stressed were “the basis for the existence of the coalition.”

Smotrich accused Netanyahu of “unacceptable foot-dragging” over the issue, and said his Religious Zionism party would be holding an “emergency” faction meeting later on Wednesday to discuss its next steps.

Later, the Walla news outlet reported that Netanyahu contacted Smotrich and reassured him that the agreement would be honored and his powers would be granted “as soon as possible.”

Also on Wednesday, a report by Walla news said Smotrich’s focus on ideological issues has angered some members of his staff, who believe it is coming at the expense of his work as finance minister.

An unnamed official in the ministry complained that Smotrich was “preoccupied with ideology and politics,” rather than putting in the extensive hours of hard work needed to formulate the complex state budget.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich leads his Religious Zionism faction’s meeting at the Knesset, February 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The source said that Smotrich often does not arrive at his Finance Ministry office until after midday. Subsequently, the source claimed, Smotrich lacks a detailed understanding of the ministry’s operations, instead relying on bureaucrats to offer policy recommendations, which he apparently invariably rubber stamps.

In a statement, Smotrich’s office responded that there was “no serious response” to be made to such claims. It also said that Smotrich was in the office from early morning until late at night, and asserted that he had only taken “two field days” since becoming finance minister.

“The minister and his staff are working hard to bring a responsible growth and infrastructure-oriented budget that will do good for Israel’s economy and the citizens of Israel,” the statement concluded.

Jeremy Sharon and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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