Liberman rebukes Europeans for interfering in ‘internal’ Khan al-Ahmar affair

Liberman rebukes Europeans for interfering in ‘internal’ Khan al-Ahmar affair

In letter to 8 ambassadors, defense minister backs state’s decision to demolish West Bank Bedouin hamlet and says envoys’ statement is ‘hysterical nonsense’

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

This September. 30, 2018 photo shows a general view of the location where people from a Bedouin hamlet Khan al-Ahmar are supposed to move to near the West Bank village of Abu Dis. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
This September. 30, 2018 photo shows a general view of the location where people from a Bedouin hamlet Khan al-Ahmar are supposed to move to near the West Bank village of Abu Dis. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman sent a letter to eight European ambassadors in Israel criticizing them for their “flagrant interference in Israel’s sovereign affairs” after their respective governments signed a joint statement at the UN calling on Jerusalem to reverse its decision to demolish a Palestinian village in the West Bank.

Liberman’s memo was sent earlier this week to the ambassadors of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Poland, and the Netherlands, the French daily Le Monde reported Saturday.

The defense minister chided the eight countries, who in their joint September statement warned that the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar “would be very serious and would severely threaten the viability of the two-state solution and undermine prospects for peace.”

“The statement invokes the absurd claim that relocating the residents to proper homes nearby will somehow preclude an eventual political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Liberman wrote, referencing the state’s plans to relocate the Bedouin residents to a site near the Palestinian town of Abu Dis.

Residents of Khan al-Ahmar — 180 in number, according to the UN — have vehemently opposed the state’s plan, saying that they were never consulted, the location is unsuitable for their rural way of life and is next to a garbage dump, and residents of Abu Dis have warned them to stay away.

The defense minister argued that Khan al-Ahmar is an “internal” Israeli matter and that other countries have no right to intervene after the High Court of Justice deemed legitimate, last May, the state’s desire to raze the hamlet built without the necessary permits.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a conference at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem on September 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In addition to the lack of authorization from Israeli authorities, the state says the structures, mostly makeshift shacks and tents, pose a threat to the village residents because of their proximity to a highway.

“Israel expects to be treated with the same measure of dignity and respect for its judicial institutions and internal affairs as each of your governments rightly expects for its own,” Liberman wrote.

“We regard anything less as an expression of injustice and discrimination, unworthy of our friendly bilateral relations and of accepted norms governing the conduct of ties between sovereign nations.”

A Defense Ministry official confirmed the letter’s existence to The Times of Israel.

Opponents of the demolition have argued that Khan al-Ahmar is not, in fact, an internal Israeli matter as the village is located in the West Bank, where the Jewish state has not employed sovereignty and where the residents have no rights as they are not Israeli citizens.

Moreover, the villagers — who have lived at the site, then controlled by Jordan, since the 1950s, after the state evicted them from their Negev homes — argue that they had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits, as such permits are almost never issued to Palestinians for building in parts of the West Bank, such as where Khan al-Ahmar lies, where Israel exerts full control over civilian affairs.

Palestinian protesters chant slogans and confront Israeli forces on September 14, 2018, as they demonstrate against the blocking of the road leading to the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

They also argue that the demolition is part of an effort to enable the expansion of the nearby settlement of Kfar Adumim, and to create a region of Israeli control from Jerusalem almost to the Dead Sea, a move critics say will bisect the West Bank, making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.

But Liberman rejected the implication in his letter to the European ambassadors. “The idea that moving a group of some 100 people within a five kilometer radius will prevent a resolution to such a complex historical conflict is hysterical nonsense,” he wrote.

Late last month, Defense Ministry officials handed out notices in a Bedouin village warning residents that they had until October 1 to demolish all buildings in the hamlet or state authorities would do so.

The deadline passed last Monday and the villagers have since been living on borrowed time.

While there had been speculation that Israel decided to hold off on the razing until after German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit, a Civil Administration official told The Times of Israel that the defense ministry body had no plans to carry out the demolition this week regardless and that the reasons were technical, rather than political.

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