Netanyahu orders partial halt to illegal outpost razings amid outrage from right

PM instructs that settler homes in West Bank belonging to soldiers and reservists be left alone until after war with Hamas

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a weekly cabinet meeting at Hakirya base in Tel Aviv on January 7, 2024. (Yariv Katz/POOL/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a weekly cabinet meeting at Hakirya base in Tel Aviv on January 7, 2024. (Yariv Katz/POOL/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed that the homes of soldiers located in illegal outposts in the West Bank not be demolished until the end of the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, according to a Tuesday statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu ordered that “as long as the war continues, the evacuation and demolition of the homes of soldiers and reservists who are settlers in Judea and Samaria must be stopped,” the PMO said, using the Hebrew terms for West Bank regions.

The prime minister decided on the measure “to prevent a recurrence of events like what happened today in Gush Etzion,” it added.

Israeli officials predict that the war, which started in October, will continue throughout 2024.

Overnight Monday, IDF and Border Police forces razed illegal settler construction in the Pnei Kedem outpost in Gush Etzion in the southern West Bank, settler activists said.

Six temporary housing units, including some occupied by IDF reservists, were demolished in the early morning raid, according to a statement from settler activists involved in establishing illegal outposts.

The move escalated the existing tension between far-right ministers and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant over civil affairs in the West Bank.

Associates of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is also a minister in the Defense Ministry in charge of civilian issues in the West Bank, were quoted by the Israel Hayom daily as criticizing the move and charging that IDF Central Command head Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox had bypassed Smotrich by characterizing the demolition a task of “immediate security urgency.”

The sources were also quoted as lamenting that Gallant had not acted with the same urgency to demolish illegal Bedouin construction that allegedly existed at the same site for years.

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir squarely blamed Gallant for the demolitions.

“On this difficult morning, while we’re counting our fallen [soldiers], when our troops in Gaza and the nation is united, Gallant comes and destroys a settlement,” he said in a statement.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting of his far-right Otzma Yehudit party, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech also claimed that settlers were being targeted, lashing out at Fox over what she called “the destruction in Gush Etzion.”

“While our enemies seek to erase our memory from the face of the earth, Central Command General Yehuda Fox has found the real culprits — settlers,” she said in a statement.

The hardline MK charged that Fox had ordered the demolitions with Gallant’s approval as an “act of revenge” to promote his own political career and to push a two-state solution in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Gallant quickly came to Fox’s defense in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Monday, where he stated, “Hundreds of terrorists in the West Bank were eliminated this year on their way to perpetrate attacks on Israeli citizens. Gen. Yehuda Fox led all of these operations.”

“A significant portion of those who are attacking General Fox live in the places he was fighting to defend. I urge the public: If you need to attack someone for political reasons, attack me — not the commanders of the IDF,” the defense minister added.

IDF soldiers scuffle with settlers from the Einav settlement trying to storm the town of Deir Sharaf in the Nablus governorate of the West Bank on November 2, 2023, after an Israeli was killed when his car came under fire. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

Since the start of Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, sparked by the terror group’s October 7 massacre in southern Israel, there has been a rise in violent attacks by extremist settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank, which has been noted by human rights groups in Israel and abroad.

Israel has come under increasing pressure from its allies to rein in settler violence, and far-right activists have slung accusations at Fox over the efforts in recent weeks.

In late December, Channel 12 news reported that Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar had warned there may be a “concrete threat to the general’s life” due to threats from far-right activists.

Bar attributed the intensified criticism of Fox to steps he has taken in the West Bank since October 7, such as the enforcement of administrative orders that see extremist settlers jailed without charge, and the collection of guns that had been distributed to communal security squads without oversight.

While the international community considers all settlements illegal, Israel differentiates between settlement homes built and permitted by the Defense Ministry on land owned by the state and illegal outposts built without necessary permits, often on private Palestinian land.

However, outposts are sometimes erected with the state’s tacit approval, and successive governments have sought to legalize at least some of the unrecognized neighborhoods as a result.

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