Netanyahu at Knesset: ‘We can’t accept anarchy’; no room for ‘setting homes on fire’

PM cites bereaved mother’s call for unity; Otzma Yehudit boycotts plenum session over coalition’s West Bank policies, accusing Netanyahu, Gallant of ‘tolerating’ Palestinian terror

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in the Knesset on February 27, 2023. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset Spokesperson)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in the Knesset on February 27, 2023. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset Spokesperson)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a speech in the Knesset plenum that his government would not tolerate “anarchy,” a day after a mob of extremist settlers rampaged through the Palestinian town of Huwara, lighting homes and cars on fire.

“With all the fervor and the passion, there is no place for anarchy, we will not accept anarchy,” Netanyahu said. “We will not accept a reality where people… set homes on fire, burn cars, intentionally harm innocent people. This is exactly what our enemies want to see: a loss of control and a never-ending cycle of blood, fire and smoke.”

On Sunday evening, a group of extremist settlers entered the Palestinian town of Huwara hours after two brothers, Hallel and Yagel Yaniv, were shot dead there in a terrorist attack. The mob set fire to homes and cars in what appeared to be the worst outburst of settler violence in decades.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said one man was shot dead by Israeli fire during the riots in the town of Za’tara, south of Huwara and near the settlement of Kfar Tapuah.

During his speech on Monday, Netanyahu did not name the town of Huwara directly, nor lay blame for the violent rampage on any specific group of people. Several members of the coalition refused to condemn the incident.

“Hallel and Yagel, God will avenge their deaths and we will avenge their deaths,” the prime minister said Monday. “And when I say ‘we,’ I mean only the defensive forces of the State of Israel — the IDF and the security forces. They know how to do it. They are doing it.”

An aerial view of a scrapyard where cars were torched overnight, in the Palestinian town of Huwara near Nablus in the West Bank, on February 27, 2023. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)

Netanyahu went on to cite Esti Yaniv, the mother of the two slain brothers, who called for unity among Israelis in the aftermath of their killing, saying: “We are brothers,, we love this country, we love the army, and we want security.”

The prime minister told members of the Knesset that “I know that a decisive majority of Israeli citizens agree to these moving words.”

Addressing both “supporters and opponents” of his government’s controversial judicial overhaul plan, Netanyahu said that “we only have one home, we only have one country, and there is one way to lower the flames in it, and that is to do one simple thing: to start talking.”

Netanyahu called on members of the opposition and coalition “to enter one room and start talking. I am convinced that with good will, we can come to agreements. Let’s listen to the real cry of the mother of those boys, Esti Yaniv, who is calling on us from the depths of her soul to get together and talk.”

The parents and siblings of Hallel, 21, and Yagel Yaniv, 19, mourn during their funeral at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, February 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Netanyahu spoke Monday during a special “40 signatures” discussion in the Knesset plenum, which can be called once a month by the opposition and requires the prime minister to attend.

The session was boycotted by the coalition’s far-right Otzma Yehudit party and by the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party.

A Likud spokesman slammed National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and his Otzma Yehudit party for not attending the session, saying their absence “is an irresponsible act against a right-wing government. When there is a vote by the left against a right-wing government, everyone should show up.”

While the session ended with a plenum vote on the stance voiced by the prime minister, the vote — and the entire discussion — was symbolic. The session ended with 55 voting to back Netanyahu and 53 against.

In response, sources in Otzma Yehudit said that the real “irresponsible act” is Netanyahu’s policies of giving into terrorism instead of fighting back.

In announcing the move to boycott, the party accused Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant of “tolerating” Palestinian terrorism and of carrying out policies without coordinating them with Otzma Yehudit.

“It is unacceptable for us to learn of diplomatic summits and agreements from the media, for them to independently decide to unseal terrorists’ homes, and it’s unacceptable for residents of Evyatar to be evacuated in violation of coalition agreements and contrary to right-wing policy,” the party said, in reference to Israel committing to halting new settlement projects during a summit with the Palestinian Authority in Aqaba, according to a joint communiqué issued after the meeting Sunday.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai (L) speaks with National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the scene of a car-ramming attack near Jerusalem’s Ramot, February 10, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

After condemnation from members of Otzma Yehudit and its fellow far-right Religious Zionism party, Netanyahu swiftly denied that there would be any construction freeze over the Green Line. The statement also referred to security forces evacuating the unauthorized Evyatar settlement outpost on Monday morning, after hundreds of settlers spent the night on the West Bank hilltop, vowing to resettle the site in response to the killing of two Israeli brothers the day before.

Ben Gvir, who has a long history of arrests and convictions for far-right extremism, broke 12 hours of silence on Monday about the events in Huwara, saying “I understand the pain, but we must not take the law into our hands. The government of Israel, and not the citizens, are the ones who must deal with terror.”

UTJ also said it would be skipping the hearing, due to “the lack of coalition agreements being honored.” The party is reportedly unhappy that Haredi educational institutions did not receive the full funding the party was promised.

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz excoriated Netanyahu during his address to the plenum.

“You are selling the security of our country for political reasons,” said Gantz. “You established a government with irresponsible and lawless people who are setting the nation ablaze… in the presence of gas vapors, you allowed for sparks that set Huwara on fire.”

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset on February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In his own speech during the session, opposition leader Yair Lapid slammed Netanyahu’s call for dialogue on the judicial reform.

“How many times will you repeat the lie that you want dialogue,” Lapid said, pointing to the rapid pace in which the relevant bills have advanced in the Knesset. “Stop this insane legislation. Take a break. We’ll go to the president.”

In his speech, Lapid stated that “terrorist militias of extremist settlers are carrying out revenge attacks in Huwara, but in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee — you won’t stop for a minute.”

Instead, Lapid added, go and “make order in your government. Get the crazies far away from positions of power. And mostly: stop tearing us apart. We will return to being one people.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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