Liberman submits proposal to legalize West Bank outpost of slain rabbi

One settler leader calls move a ‘spin,’ arguing that the defense minister is passing the decision to the cabinet rather than making it himself

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and head of the Yisrael Beytenu party leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 8, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and head of the Yisrael Beytenu party leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 8, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman submitted a proposal to the cabinet on Sunday that would start the process of legalizing of the Havat Gilad outpost in the West Bank, less than a week after one of its residents was killed in a terror attack.

If adopted by the cabinet, the proposal would authorize the defense minister to instruct relevant government bodies to examine the legal aspects of recognizing Havat Gilad as an official settlement, a statement announcing the proposal said.

The settlement on “Israeli-owned land” in the northern West Bank would operate within the municipal framework of the Samaria Regional Council, the statement added.

But one West Bank council chairman, speaking on the condition of anonymity, dismissed the announcement as “spin.”

View of the West Bank outpost of Havat Gilad, January 10, 2018 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“He’s asking the cabinet for approval to direct bodies that are already under his jurisdiction,” said the official. “Liberman doesn’t want to make the decision himself so he’s passing it on to the cabinet.”

A spokesman for the defense minister rejected the criticism and insisted that such cabinet approval was necessary if the government wants to legalize the outpost.

“The settlement enterprise has always been an important component of the overall security of the Zionist movement,” Liberman said in a statement explaining the proposal. “Today, as well, Jewish settlement plays a tremendous role in preserving the borders of the country and the homeland.”

Yael Shevach, whose husband Raziel was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in a drive-by shooting while on his way back to Havat Gilad last Tuesday, praised the defense minister’s decision. “May they continue in this direction and advance this thing (the outpost’s legalization) until the end… so that we can get some sort of comfort in the form of building and revival,” she said.

Rabbi Raziel Shevach, who was murdered in a terror attack in the West Bank on January 9, 2017 (courtesy)

Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan heaped similar praise on  Liberman in a statement of his own. “I congratulate Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and call on the cabinet to adopt the proposal,” he said.

Havat Gilad residents claim to have purchased the land prior to establishing the outpost in 2002. The settlers named the hilltop community after Gilad Zar, the security coordinator of the Shomron Regional Council, who was shot dead in an attack a year earlier.

Palestinians, however, have denied the purchase, claiming that the documents were fake.

Since Shevach’s murder, settler leaders and right-wing lawmakers have called on the government to legalize the outpost. Earlier Sunday, President Reuven Rivlin called such demands “logical” and said they require “consideration or attention at the very least.”

However, he added that settlement building should be done “out of love, not vengeance.”

At Shevach’s funeral on Wednesday, dozens of mourners interrupted Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s eulogy with calls for “revenge.” The Jewish Home party leader attempted to calm the crowd by saying that “the only revenge is to keep building,” and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to legalize the outpost.

On Thursday, Netanyahu instructed the Defense Ministry to officially hook up Havat Gilad to the electricity grid. The outpost, southeast of Nablus, currently receives electricity through a makeshift connection to the power grid. Regulating the service would allow for the installment of proper infrastructure linking the hilltop community to the national power network.

A spokeswoman for the Samaria Regional Council said that the residents of Havat Gilad have been paying the Israel Electric Corporation for power, but that Netanyahu’s move would enable regulated electricity supply at a higher voltage.

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