Gallant lifts order barring access to evacuated settlements in northern West Bank

Defense minister declares ‘historic move’ as settler leaders hope to reverse 2005 evacuation, but IDF swiftly closes off sites over security concerns around Jenin

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant delivers a statement to the press at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv, May 15, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant delivers a statement to the press at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv, May 15, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday declared the end of restrictions barring Israelis from  areas of the northern West Bank that Israel pulled out of 19 years ago, while a fellow lawmaker urged the creation of new settlements in response to the announcement by three European countries that they would recognize a Palestinian state.

Calling it a “historic move,” Gallant said in a statement that the expiration of military regulations blocking access to the evacuated settlement outposts of Ganim, Kadim and Sa-Nur would lead to “the development of settlement and provide security to the residents of the region.”

Settlers’ hopes were swiftly dashed, though, as Israel Defense Forces Central Command head Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox signed an order again making the areas a closed military zone, Army Radio reported.

Absent the military order, the move lifting restrictions on the sites where Ganim, Kadim and Sa-Nur once stood would mean that Israeli citizens could enter the areas legally, though any lawful settlement activity would have to be authorized by the government in processes that typically take years.

Gallant’s announcement came a year and a day after the government granted access to the Homesh outpost, legalizing the return of settlers who had already begun visiting the site and setting up a wildcat yeshiva.

The four settlements were evacuated and partially demolished at the same time that all Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip were evacuated in 2005. That unilateral disengagement was accompanied by a law banning Israeli citizens from being present in those regions. The law was repealed by the Knesset last year, but military orders barring Israelis from entering remained in place until Wednesday.

Settlers visit the evacuated settlement of Sa-Nur on July 24, 2018. (Homesh T’cheela)

In Wednesday’s development, Gallant instructed the IDF to rescind the order declaring Ganim, Kadim, and Sa-Nur a closed military zone.

“The Jewish hold on Judea and Samaria guarantees security, [and] the application of the law to repeal the Disengagement Law will lead to the development of settlement and provide security to the residents of the region,” Gallant said, using a biblical term for the West Bank.

Yossi Dagan, who heads the Samaria Regional Council covering settlements in the northern West Bank, praised the “historic” measure as step toward undoing what he described as the “folly” of the settlements’ evacuation.

The anti-settlement Peace Now organization, however, said that “the last thing Israel needs is more isolated and unnecessary settlements that will be a security burden and distance us from a required diplomatic process.”

Buildings at the West Bank’s Homesh outpost, May 29, 2023. (Flash90)

Fox first issued orders complying with Gallant’s instructions to lift restrictions, but then also signed paperwork closing the location to the public.

The IDF took the precaution to prevent settlers from immediately flooding into the sites and establishing settlements, Army Radio reported.

The areas are located near Jenin, which has become a major hotspot for friction as Israel has stepped up anti-terror operations there and in other parts of the northern West Bank where terror groups have managed to deeply embed themselves.

“A completely different security arrangement is required in this area,” an unnamed military source was quoted telling Army Radio.

Allowing Israelis back “cannot be done overnight,” the source said. “We will also have to bring many additional forces to the area, it will take time.”

On Tuesday, eight Palestinians were killed as Israeli troops carried out a raid in Jenin, Palestinian health authorities said. The raid was ongoing Wednesday, with the army reporting firefights between troops and Palestinians.

The right-wing government has taken steps aimed at bolstering settlement activity, including approving thousands of homes and funneling money into infrastructure projects serving Israeli settlers.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, among the most vocal proponents of settlement expansion, called Wednesday for Israel to approve 10,000 new settlement housing units in response to Ireland, Spain, and Norway saying they will recognize a Palestinian state.

Smotrich, who holds a Defense Ministry role giving him authority over civilian affairs in the West Bank, also called for establishing a new community for each country recognizing Palestine and to advance a government proposal to strengthen settlement in the West Bank.

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