Netanyahu resists calls to legalize Ofra over shooting attack

Netanyahu resists calls to legalize Ofra over shooting attack

At faction meeting, PM says Israel will bring terrorists who wounded 7 to justice, says he hopes to get okay for settlement via courts

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on December 10, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on December 10, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday decried the actions of the “horrible terrorists” who “tried to murder a mother and a baby in her womb” in a shooting attack outside the West Bank settlement of Ofra the night before, but declined to immediately move to legalize the community in response.

“It’s monstrous,” Netanyahu said at the opening of the weekly Likud faction meeting at the Knesset. “Security forces are pursuing [them]. They’ll capture them, we’ll bring them to justice and settle the score.”

But at the same time, behind closed doors, he resisted voices within his party and others who called to respond by legalizing Jewish homes in the settlement built on private Palestinian land. The premier said the government was working through the courts to get retroactive approval for construction, but “what you think is simple is much more complex.”

Seven people were injured Sunday night when a passing Palestinian vehicle opened fire at a crowd of pedestrians waiting at bus stop around 9:30 p.m. The manhunt for the terrorists, who sped away from the scene, was ongoing.

A pregnant woman was critically wounded, and doctors were forced to perform an emergency delivery of the 21-year-old’s baby upon her arrival at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

The baby boy was delivered by Cesarean section in the 30th week of pregnancy, and was immediately transferred to the ward for premature babies. His condition was initially designated as “stable,” but doctors said it had deteriorated Monday morning.

“We are all praying for the recovery of the wounded in the terrible terror attack yesterday and support the doctors who are fighting for the baby’s life,” Netanyahu said. “I think it’s useless to expect condemnation from the Palestinian Authority. They only contribute to the incitement.”

At the Jewish Home faction meeting, Education Minister Naftali Bennett also condemned the “terrible terror attack” and wished a swift recovery to those hurt.

Jewish Home party head Naftali Bennett leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on December 10, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

His party had earlier called for the legalization of Ofra in response to the attack, saying the proper response to such terror attacks was “to strengthen settlements.”

“The Jewish Home Party calls on the prime minister to immediately regulate the settlement of Ofra and grant it the status of a regular town in our country,” a statement from the right-wing coalition party said.

Responding to those calls, which suggested that the government was not doing enough for the settlements, Netanyahu told Likud lawmakers that any criticism of his settlement policies was misplaced.

“There is a prime minister here who stood for 12 years against two very, very difficult American presidents,” he said, referring to Bill Clinton, who served as US president during Netanyahu’s first term from 1996 to 1099, and Barack Obama, who held the office for eight years of his premiership.

“We have built and built and built. With great wisdom and determination,” he insisted, expressing hope that a path could be found to build more with court backing. “If that can be done, wonderful. If not, we’ll see.”

The Ofra settlement was established in 1975 on an abandoned Jordanian military base, with the approval of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, who were prime minister and defense minister, respectively, at the time. While the base itself sat on what is considered state land, the vast majority of the property on which the community now sits was built on land registered to private Palestinians by the Jordanians before 1967.

While the community of 3,500 has built nearly a hundred of its homes on the land deemed to belong to the state, roughly 500 other houses remain on private Palestinian land and therefore have not been legalized.

Israeli soldiers search for gunmen who opened fire at a bus stop outside the West Bank settlement of Ofra, injuring seven people, on December 9, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

In February 2017, the Knesset passed the so-called Regulation Law, which would allow the state to expropriate private Palestinian land where illegal homes have been built, provided that they were established “in good faith” or had government support, and that the Palestinian owners receive 125 percent financial compensation for the land.

The legislation aimed to solve the legal troubles facing communities such as Ofra; however, it has since been frozen in High Court proceedings and most analysts have predicted that it will not stand, at least in its current form. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit declined to defend the legislation on the state’s behalf, arguing that it violated Palestinian rights.

In a briefing with journalists following the Likud faction meeting, Environment and Jerusalem Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a senior figure in the party who is considered close to the prime minister, said that the Jewish Home’s demand to legalize Ofra in response to the terror attack sent the wrong message.

“I do not support building or authorizing settlements because of a terror attack; we need to build because it is the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s wrong to link construction to an attack.”

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