Visiting outpost evacuees, Netanyahu vows ‘no more uprooting of communities’

Courting votes at Elezar settlement, near where 15 illegally built homes were demolished last year, PM says West Bank Israelis give him strength to endure corruption investigations

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) meeting families whose homes in the Netiv Ha'avot outpost were demolished last year, at the Elazar West Bank settlement, January 28, 2019. (Gush Etzion Regional Council)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) meeting families whose homes in the Netiv Ha'avot outpost were demolished last year, at the Elazar West Bank settlement, January 28, 2019. (Gush Etzion Regional Council)

Asking for their support in the upcoming elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of settler leaders Monday that it is thanks to them and the movement they represent that he is able to withstand the criminal investigations against him. He also promised the gathering, which included evacuees from an outpost demolished by court order, that so long as it depended on him, there would be no further evacuations of settlements, and no more building freezes.

“People are constantly asking me, ‘How do you endure all the investigations and attacks on your family?'” Netanyahu related in a meeting with senior members of the Yesha settlement umbrella council and residents of the Netiv Ha’avot outpost, where 15 homes built on private Palestinian land were demolished last June.

“I withstand it all thanks to this place. Your sense of mission,” he told the group of settlers.

Police have already recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for bribery in all three of the cases against him and it is now up to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to make a final decision on pressing charges. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and has vowed to continue leading his Likud party in the elections even if indicted.

Amid mounting reports that Mandelblit is leaning toward indicting Netanyahu pending a hearing on charges of bribery — and that the announcement could be made as early as February — Netanyahu has ramped up his efforts to portray such a decision as illegitimate.

He has repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that the probes are part of a left-wing conspiracy to depose him and that the media and left are engaged in an attempt to “steal” the upcoming April 9 election.

A bulldozer demolishes a homes in the Netiv Ha’avot outpost on June 13, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Yesha Council chairman Hananel Dorani appeared to respond positively to Netanyahu’s message on Monday, downplaying the investigations against him and lauding his work as prime minister.

“We were warned that you were ruining our relations with the US and that it was a diplomatic tsunami, but the reality proved to be very different,” Dorani told Netanyahu in in front of the cameras. “All the left can do now is to paint its political opponents in dark colors of corruption.”

After heaping praise on the premier, the settler leader called on him to expand construction beyond the Green Line, legalize illegally built Israeli homes there and annex the West Bank.

Monday’s meeting took place in the living room of one of the temporary homes built by the state for the families on Netiv Ha’avot, a hilltop adjacent to the Elazar settlement, where they once lived. The evicted residents will live there until the government finishes building a neighborhood of permanent homes near where their old ones once stood. The project is expected to take several years.

The stop in Netiv Ha’avot was part of an afternoon tour of the Gush Etzion Regional council southeast of Jerusalem, during which the prime minister also visited a women’s seminary in the Migdal Oz settlement.

Protesters at the Netiv Ha’avot outpost in the Gush Etzion area of the West Bank during the demolition of one of 15 illegally-built homes, on June 12, 2018. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Netanyahu vowed to the Netiv Ha’avot residents that no settlements would be uprooted on his watch.

“As far as I am concerned, there will not be any more uprooting of communities or the cessation of (building in) communities, but rather the exact opposite. The Land of Israel is ours and it will remain ours. What has fallen will be rebuilt. It is ours. We are building here, and you are living here,” the prime minister declared.

Throughout Netanyahu’s tenure, a number of illegal Israeli homes and outposts were evacuated, most recently 15 homes in Netiv Ha’avot last June, preceded by nine homes in the Ofra settlement and the 42 homes of Amona in 2017.

The premier called the High Court of Justice decision sanctioning the razing of the Netiv Ha’avot homes a “setback.”

“We are a state of laws subject to the decisions of the High Court of Justice, which ruled what it ruled,” he said apologetically.

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