Likud blasts Yesha council head after he urges party to back settlement bill

As settler leader asks opposition to support renewal of crucial legal measure, Yariv Levin accuses him of doing ‘terrible damage’ to greater settlement enterprise

David Elhayani, Yesha Council chairman, speaks during a press conference outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, January 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
David Elhayani, Yesha Council chairman, speaks during a press conference outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, January 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yariv Levin, chairman of the Likud party’s Knesset faction, assailed the head of the umbrella organization for settlements Thursday night after the latter, along with several other settlement leaders, urged the opposition to back renewing a law extending Israeli law to West Bank settlers.

Likud and other opposition parties have vowed not to support any coalition-backed law, regardless of ideology.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar has warned of legal chaos for settlers if the law, an “emergency measure” renewed every five years, is not reapproved next week.

In a letter sent to the leaders of the opposition parties, Yesha Council chief David Elhayani called on them “to put an end to the political debate at this time, to think about the security and status of the residents, the same residents that voted for you, and to vote in favor of extending the regulations in Judea and Samaria.”

In response, Levin accused Elhayani and others who shared his view of “working to save” the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

“My pain is not for their shameful letter. The pain is for the terrible damage they are doing to the image of the settlement enterprise and the pioneering settlers.

Likud MK Yariv Levin at a conference in Kedem, the West Bank, September 5, 2019. (Hillel Maeir/Flash90)

“I can say with full confidence that they do not represent the vast majority of the settlers, whose voices are well heard in the clear and commendable announcement of the heads of the Likud branches in Judea and Samaria,” he said.

Levin also noted that Elhayani had opposed Likud’s efforts to annex West Bank settlements under the administration of former US president Donald Trump. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu eventually shelved those plans as part of the Abraham Accords, the agreement to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

“When we worked to apply sovereignty to all Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria, which would have secured its future and would have no longer required legislation such as [the current bill], some of those council heads traveled as far as Washington to thwart the move,” Levin said.

In June 2020, Elhayani was one of a number of Israeli settlement leaders who spoke out against Trump’s peace plan, which was announced in January of that year. Elhayani said the plan was “a danger to Israel” as it designated land for a Palestinian state.

“Just as it was then,” Levin wrote, “they do not see the big picture and are unable to rise to the occasion. The enormous, widespread damage to all areas of life as a result of the existence of this government is immeasurably greater than any law that will or will not be passed.”

The measure that the coalition is seeking to renew was enacted following the Six Day War in 1967. It extends Israeli criminal and civil law to its citizens living in West Bank settlements, enabling them to be judged in civil courts and maintain access to Israeli HMOs. Palestinians living in the West Bank remain under Israeli military law, which itself is based on pre-1967 Jordanian law in the West Bank.

An Israeli security guard at the entrance to the Jewish settlement of Ariel in the West Bank, Saturday, April 30, 2022. Israeli citizens living in Ariel, as in all other Jewish settlements in the West Bank, are subject to Israeli civil law. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The law has been continuously renewed since its passage, and is due to expire later this month. If it does, Jewish settlers would become subject to the military justice system for the first time.

The Knesset coalition, which only has 60 of 120 members and thus no majority, appears unable to pass the bill without votes from opposition MKs (there are also several wildcards, such as rebel Yamina MK Idit Silman, but she has reportedly signaled she will vote against it). In addition, the coalition’s four-strong Islamist Ra’am party has not said whether it would vote in favor of the bill, potentially leaving it with no more than 60 and possibly only 56 supportive votes.

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