In coalition ultimatum, hawkish faction demands more roadblocks for Palestinians

Far-right Tekumah lawmakers threaten to topple government if their demands — which also include full services to illegal outposts — aren’t met

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during an Interior Affairs committee meeting at the Knesset, January 1, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during an Interior Affairs committee meeting at the Knesset, January 1, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A far-right faction of two Knesset lawmakers on Thursday evening issued an ultimatum to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following a number of deadly terror attacks in the West Bank, saying it would quit the coalition if roadblocks aren’t reinstated throughout the West Bank and a law preventing the demolition of illegal outposts isn’t quickly passed in the Knesset.

The threat, if carried through, could bring down the fragile ruling coalition of just 61 of 120 parliament members.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed and a civilian and another serviceman were severely injured in a drive-by shooting attack in the central West Bank earlier Thursday, close to where a similar terror attack occurred earlier in the week.

“The National Union’s central committee which convened this evening at Givat Assaf has made a decision to present two concrete demands regarding security and settlements, as a condition for continuing to vote with the coalition,” MK Bezalel Smotrich of the hardline Tekumah faction within the pro-settlement Jewish Home party —  also known as the National Union — wrote on Twitter.

The first demand was to restore security roadblocks in the West Bank, some of which were removed to improve the quality of life for Palestinians, who had complained they significantly slow down traffic.

The second demand was to pass legislation known as Regulation Law 2.0, a proposal to prevent the demolition of illegal outposts built over the last 20 years and ensure they receive full government services.

Illustrative: A new housing project being built in the Israeli settlement of Nokdim on October 24, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

That bill will be brought on Sunday before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and Smotrich said Tekumah was demanding it be pushed forward along with another proposed law pushed by Netanyahu, which would force the president to pick a party leader as prime minister, closing what he has described as a legal loophole and preventing a potential “coup” by rival Gideon Sa’ar.

Smotrich proposed his bill after a petition was filed against the original Regulation Law at the High Court of Justice, which many experts expect will strike down the legislation.

While the international community considers all settlement activity illegal, Israel differentiates between legal settlement homes built and permitted by the Defense Ministry on land owned by the state, and illegal outposts built without necessary permits, often on private Palestinian land.

Last year, the cabinet passed a decision declaring its intention to legalize all outposts in the West Bank and created a special committee responsible for that exact task. However, the committee has not met since its establishment and the Knesset last month discovered that it has yet to receive a full budget. Nonetheless, the new Regulation Law’s stated purpose is to build off that committee and ensure that outposts it is supposed to be working to legalize will meantime be treated by the government as full-fledged settlements.

Separately, settler leaders vowed to strike on Sunday and protest outside the cabinet meeting in response to what they argue has been the government’s lackluster response to the recent violence.

“If the prime minister does not change the policy, the attacks will continue. On Sunday we are all shutting down our municipalities and going up to Jerusalem to protest the Jewish blood being spilled,” a joint statement from the Binyamin, Samaria and Beit El regional and local councils said.

Tekumah’s ultimatum to Netanyahu didn’t go as far as demanding a complete ban of Palestinian vehicles from Route 60, the West Bank’s main north-south artery, in response to the drive-by shootings on that road, as earlier reports had indicated the faction might do.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the Israel prize ceremony at the International Conference Center (ICC) in Jerusalem on May 2, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu, responding to the attacks Thursday, ordered a series of security measures including that the process of demolishing the homes of terrorists be expedited to take just 48 hours from the moment a decision is taken to carry out the punishment, reducing the time allotted to residents of the building to appeal against the measure. In the past, residents have usually had at least a week to appeal the controversial punitive measure in Israel’s courts.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, announced Thursday that he would be demanding coalition support for a bill calling to forcibly relocate the families of Palestinian terrorists from their homes to other areas of the West Bank.

According to the proposed legislation by Bennett and his fellow party member MK Moti Yogev, within a week of an attack or attempted attack, the IDF’s Central Command will be permitted to expel the relatives of the Palestinian assailants from their hometowns to other areas of the West Bank.

The powerful Ministerial Committee for Legislation will convene on Sunday and Bennett said he will put the bill to a vote with the expectation of full support from the government.

Israeli soldiers, medical officials and police inspect the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near Givat Assaf, in the central West Bank, on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Thursday’s shooting attack occurred on Route 60 near the Givat Assaf outpost, some two kilometers (1.25 miles) from Ofra, where on Sunday a number of terrorists driving in a white car opened fire at a group of people standing at the settlement’s bus stop, hitting seven of them, including a seven-months pregnant woman who was critically injured — and whose condition has since been steadily improving. Her baby later died as a result of the attack.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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