PM: Cabinet to order ‘broader action’ against East Jerusalem, West Bank terror

Netanyahu says government will also ‘strengthen settlements’ in response to deadly attack; rails against civil disobedience and nationwide strike in response to judicial overhaul

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Feb.12, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Feb.12, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that ministers would decide on “broader action” against terrorists after three Israelis were killed in a ramming attack in Jerusalem on Friday.

“The cabinet will convene today to prepare for even broader action against the perpetrators of terrorism and their supporters in East Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, while avoiding harm to those not involved as much as possible,” Netanyahu said, using the biblical term for the West Bank.

“Also today, the government will authorize the strengthening of settlements in our country, which the terrorists are trying to uproot,” he added, without giving further details.

Netanyahu also said that legislation would be passed in the coming days that would revoke the citizenship or residency of convicted terrorists who are remunerated by the Palestinian Authority.

“I say this again because this is our policy: The appropriate answer to terrorism is to strike it hard and deepen our roots in our country even more,” he said.

The premier did not mention Gaza. In an unusual step, the military did not launch airstrikes on the Strip overnight in reaction to a projectile that was launched from the territory on Saturday, possibly indicating Israel is seeking to avoid an escalation of violence.

Three people were killed on Friday when Hussein Qaraqa rammed his car into a group of people standing at a bus stop in Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood: 6-year-old Yaakov Yisrael Paley and 20-year-old Alter Shlomo Lederman, were killed on the spot, and Paley’s older brother Asher Menahem Paley, 8, was critically hurt and died Saturday of his wounds.

Following the attack, far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir released a statement saying he’d told police to gear up for a major operation Sunday, evoking a famous 2002 military campaign against West Bank terror groups.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the scene of a deadly terrorist car-ramming attack near the Ramot junction in Jerusalem on February 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However, Ben Gvir lacks the authority to approve such a move on his own and his comments were dismissed by a senior government official who told multiple Hebrew media outlets anonymously that “decisions of such a scale are not made in statements by one minister or another on a sidewalk at the scene of an attack.”

Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had been caught by surprise by Ben Gvir’s statements. But on Saturday night, Ben Gvir posted a tweet reiterating his initial statement, saying he was “determined” to launch a major operation.

Eyewitnesses to Friday’s attack said Qaraqa accelerated into a group of Israelis waiting at a bus stop. A senior Israeli official said it was believed he was mentally ill, and that he had been released from a psychiatric hospital in northern Israel only days before.

Yaakov Yisrael Paley, 6 (right) and Asher Menahem Paley, 8, killed in deadly car-ramming terror attack near Ramot Junction in Jerusalem on February 10, 2023. (Twitter)

On Sunday, Israeli forces sealed Qaraqa’s parents’ home ahead of a potential full demolition; the attacker’s residence was not sealed as he lived in a rental. Home demolitions are a controversial measure that the Israeli security establishment maintains can deter future terror attacks. Critics say that the tool is a form of collective punishment.

Tensions have been high as the IDF has pressed on with an anti-terror offensive mostly focused on the northern West Bank to deal with a series of attacks that have left 31 people in Israel dead in 2022, and another 10 since the beginning of the year.

The IDF’s operation has netted more than 2,500 arrests in near-nightly raids. It also left 171 Palestinians dead in 2022, and another 43 since the beginning of the year, many of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, though some were uninvolved civilians.

There has also been a rise in revenge attacks by Israelis against Palestinians following the two terror attacks.

‘Nobody should force a strike’

In his comments Sunday, Netanyahu also addressed the judicial overhaul being pushed by his hardline government in the face of mass public protests and criticism from leading jurists, economists and former security officials.

A first reading of some of the controversial proposals is set for Monday; a bill must pass three readings to become law, and the coalition has indicated it seeks to blitz the legislation through the Knesset by April.

“The government received the people’s trust in democratic elections and received a clear mandate from the citizens of Israel. No one here can dispute that,” Netanyahu said.

“Nobody disputes the right to demonstrate either, but nobody should call for violence, to act with violence, to call for civil unrest, or to force a strike on many who do not want it,” he said.

Israeli reserve soldiers, veterans and activists rally outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, protesting against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, on February 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A nationwide strike is set to take place on Monday to coincide with the first rounds of voting on the legislation, an escalation in the demonstrations against the contentious proposals. There will also be a mass rally outside the Knesset in Jerusalem at midday, as well as concurrent protests in other cities.

Netanyahu’s coalition has prioritized the dramatic judicial restructuring that would increase government control over the judiciary.

According to a poll aired by Channel 12 news on Friday, just one in four Israelis support the government moving forward with the proposed overhaul legislation in its current form.

As presented by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the coalition’s proposals would severely restrict the High Court’s capacity to strike down laws and government decisions, with an “override clause” enabling the Knesset to re-legislate struck-down laws with a bare majority of 61; give the government complete control over the selection of judges; prevent the court from using a test of “reasonableness” to judge legislation and government decisions; and allow ministers to appoint their own legal advisers, instead of getting counsel from advisers operating under the aegis of the Justice Ministry.

Critics say that along with other planned legislation, the sweeping reforms will impact Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting almost all power to the executive branch, and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended. Netanyahu has pushed back against the criticism.

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