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Lapid tacitly criticizes new settler homes amid coalition tensions

‘Next time, I will be in the room during decisions on such matters,’ FM says; he defends Gantz’s listing of 6 Palestinian groups as terror organizations

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset, on October 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset, on October 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Amid growing signs of coalition infighting, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Monday said that government ministers were successfully dealing with issues that had been neglected “for ten years,” but indirectly criticized Prime Minister Naftali Bennett over the decision to build 1,300 new homes in West Bank settlements.

“Next time, I will be in the room during decisions on such matters,” Lapid said at the opening of his Yesh Atid party’s faction meeting, after left-wing coalition members complained about being blindsided by the decision.

“This is not a government that is ten degrees to the right or left, it’s a government that is 100 percent for Israeli citizens,” he said.

That remark appeared to be in response to Meretz MK Mossi Raz’s criticism of the announcement of the new settlement homes, the first of its kind since US President Joe Biden took office. Raz asserted the move showed the government was “heading 10 degrees more to the right than the last government.”

The approval of the new housing units came after Hebrew media reported last week that over 3,000 settlement homes will be advanced this week alongside some 1,300 Palestinian homes in the West Bank’s Area C.

The move was announced by Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin of the right-wing New Hope party, who said in response to Raz that Meretz should not expect him to abandon his principles.

Buildings under construction in Mishor Adumim, an Israeli industrial zone adjacent to the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, in the West Bank, east of Jerusalem, on June 16, 2020. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Lapid insisted the divisions in the narrow coalition — which is made up of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties, and an Islamist faction — would not derail the budget, which must be approved by November 14 or the Knesset will automatically dissolve, triggering new elections.

“I want to clear all the [background] noise and focus on what’s important: The budget will pass. The coalition is working. A big part of the difficulty is because we are insisting on dealing with things that weren’t dealt with for ten years,” he said.

“Look at what happened yesterday in the government and the Knesset. [We are] dealing with [crime in] the Arab community, the climate crisis, Holocaust survivors, youth groups, the LGBT community, people with disabilities, everything that was neglected for years.

“When you take care of things, there will be disagreements and conflicting interests. Action has a cost, but we are willing to pay it,” Lapid said. “Israel is making progress.”

Despite Lapid’s apparent effort to tamp down the coalition tensions, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli on Monday criticized Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s announcement last week that six Palestinian civil society groups were being blacklisted for alleged terror links, further underscoring the political divides.

“The way in which this was done caused damage among our greatest friends,” Michaeli said at the Labor party’s faction meeting. “This did not need to happen.”

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev of Labor had said Sunday that the move was not discussed in the high-level security cabinet, of which he is a member.

Gantz’s Blue and White party quickly hit back at Michaeli.

“We suggest that Merav Michaeli, who doesn’t know the details, not get in the way of the war on terror,” the party said in a statement.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz left, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, 2nd right, and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on July 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In his own comments, Lapid defended the Defense Ministry’s designation of the six groups as terror organizations, after the move was met with criticism by the US State Department, EU, the Palestinian Authority, progressive Democrats, American Jewish groups, and international and Israeli human rights organizations.

“All the intelligence material was presented to me. This was a decision that needed to be made,” he said.

“There are very good people in the organizations and very bad people take advantage of the good ones,” he added.

The Defense Ministry has not made public concrete evidence to demonstrate a direct connection between the organizations and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in its announcement on Friday.

Both Israeli military and civilian law ban supporting or joining a terror group, and violators can face years in prison. Israeli authorities can also seize assets belonging to terror organizations and prohibit funding their activities. Donors may also be subject to significant jail time.

With the recent disagreements pitting right-wing and left-wing coalition members against each other threatening to pull the coalition apart, Bennett has repeatedly called on his coalition partners to keep the peace until the budget is passed.

“There is no point in starting to rock the boat,” Bennett told ministers at their cabinet meeting last week. “Even when someone has a really burning urge to respond, certain that they are right – let us keep the bigger goal in mind.”

“We must now focus on passing the budget,” he implored. “This is the main task for the coming weeks. To focus all efforts, to maintain coalition stability, so that we can advance the common goals for which we have come together. Let us focus, especially in the coming weeks, on what we have in common and not on disagreements.”

The budget must pass by a November 1 deadline or the Knesset will automatically dissolve, triggering fresh elections.

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