BEITAR ILLIT, West Bank — Speaking at a cornerstone-laying ceremony for a new neighborhood in this ultra-Orthodox settlement south of Jerusalem on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that his government has been doing everything in its power to address the problems faced by Israelis over the Green Line.
“There is no government that does more for the settlement [movement] in Israel than the one under my leadership,” he said to a crowd of some 100 people.
Netanyahu cited his chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, who was in the Netiv Ha’avot illegal outpost hours earlier, speaking with residents of the neighborhood — in the settlement of Elazar — where 15 homes are slated to be demolished after the High Court of Justice ruled that they had been constructed on private Palestinian land.
The prime minister said he was looking to find solutions “within the framework of the law that would minimize the damage” for the residents of Elazar, which is in the Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem.
While visiting the homes slated to be destroyed, Horowitz promised Thursday morning to the settlers present that he would “fight for Netiv Ha’avot as if it is my own home.”
Dozens of residents of the illegal neighborhood stood outside the entrance to Beitar Illit holding signs calling on the prime minister to prevent the impending demolition, as his motorcade sped by for the ceremony.
Further vaunting his government’s efforts on behalf of settlers in front of the friendly crowd, Netanyahu cited his convention of cabinet ministers for a Wednesday meeting “in order to expedite the renewal of the construction work” on the Amichai settlement for evacuees of the illegal Amona outpost.
Construction for Israel’s first new settlement in a quarter century had been halted last week due to lack of funds. However, ministers, led by Housing Minister Yoav Galant, agreed to double the project’s budget from NIS 60 million ($18 million) to NIS 120 million ($36 million) in order to jumpstart the construction.
Netanyahu also made a point of lauding his relations with representatives of ultra-Orthodox communities in his government. He described weekly meetings with Haredi MKs “that are held simply in good spirits.”
What went unmentioned, however, was the Machpela House in Hebron, where roughly 120 settlers have been illegally squatting since July 25, claiming to have legally purchased the property from the original Palestinian owners.
The group of some 15 families has more than once attempted to appeal the 2012 decision blocking their purchase, and last month a Defense Ministry committee agreed to re-hear the settlers’ claim. However, the inquiry has not yet taken place, and the army order banning their living in the building remains in effect.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu instructed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to hold off on any eviction plans, and representatives from both of their offices have met with leaders of the Machpela House residents in an effort to reach a solution. Sources close to the prime minister said that Netanyahu was looking to avoid having to evacuate the families.
In Beitar Illit, each of the six speakers addressing the virtually all-male crowd praised Netanyahu and his government’s efforts on behalf of the ultra-Orthodox. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Beitar Illit Mayor Meir Rubenstein presented the prime minister with an engraved shofar horn before the two exited the air-conditioned tent to stand at a lookout point of the new neighborhood, labeled “Hill C.”
Also present were Interior Minister Arye Deri (Shas) along with four lawmakers from the United Torah Judaism faction. Deri lauded the Beitar Illit residents and the city, but called for more to be done to address the housing problems within the broader ultra-Orthodox sector.
“There are many mayors who refuse to open up neighborhoods for Haredim. We’ve become asylum seekers,” he said. “But those who have [opened up] Haredi neighborhoods [in their cities] have quickly learned what a blessing they are.”