Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has delayed indefinitely the scheduled demolition of a Bedouin Palestinian village in the West Bank, deemed illegal by authorities, reportedly due to intense international pressure.
Foreign lawmakers and ministers have urged Jerusalem to refrain from razing houses built without a permit in Sussiya.
Hundreds of police and soldiers were put on standby for the demolition, scheduled for Tuesday morning, but late Monday Netanyahu ordered a halt to the operation, according to the Ynet website.
It is the third delay of the village’s court-approved demolition in the last two years.
Israel maintains that the community was built illegally, but its plans to raze the villages have sparked a sustained international outcry.
A group of 74 Democratic lawmakers from the US last month urged Netanyahu to halt the demolition of Sussiya and another village, Khan al-Ahmar.
In a letter sent to Netanyahu they wrote that the “destruction and displacement of such communities would run counter to shared US and Israeli values, while further undermining long-term Israeli security, Palestinian dignity and the prospects for peacefully achieving two states for two people.”
It said demolishing Sussiya and Khan al-Ahmar “endangers Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy,” and urged the government to “fairly reevaluate” Palestinian requests for building rights.
J Street, a liberal Jewish Mideast lobbying group that helped promote the appeal on Capitol Hill, welcomed the letter at the time, calling it the most significant criticism of Israeli settlement expansion by Congress ever. It followed a similar letter to Netanyahu signed by 10 Democratic senators, including such prominent figures as Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Dianne Feinstein of California.
The Ynet report said Tuesday that some believe the decision to delay the demolition came due to the planned visit in Israel of US administration officials Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, ahead of the unveiling of US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.
The postponement was blasted by right-wing groups, who drew a comparison between the nixed demolition of the Palestinian villages and the razing of homes in two Israeli settlements in the past week, which were carried out as planned.
“Netanyahu cannot only blame the High Court and the left-wing organizations, when in practice he employs strict enforcement for settlements but shows helplessness and zero action against the intensive illegal actions by the Palestinian Authority,” declared the pro-settler group Regavim, which spearheaded the High Court petition against Sussiya.
Settler leader Yohai Damari, head of the Har Hebron Regional Council, decried the government’s “foolishness.”
“I call on the Israeli government to do the right thing, stop making one-sided decisions, and have it as a top priority to safeguard state land for the benefit of the state and its citizens,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
Damari added that the repeated delays were a “clear message to the other side that we are turning a blind eye, and proof of that is the dozens of illegal houses built systematically every month in Area C.”
Sussiya, in the southern West Bank, has been under threat of demolition for several years after Israel found that homes there had been built without authorization.
The town’s residents argue that they had no choice but to build illegally because Israel’s Civil Administration rarely grants permits to Palestinians in the West Bank’s Area C, a zone officially under Israeli security and administrative control per the 1993 Oslo peace accords.
A master plan devised by residents was rejected by the Defense Ministry. Israel has not made a counteroffer for the issue to be resolved without a demolition.
Some 300 people live in Sussiya. They reside mainly on farmland and their community has had no running water or electricity since they were expelled from the village’s original location 30 years ago, when there were about 25 families living at the site.
A number of traditionally nomadic Bedouin communities are based east of Jerusalem, where some rights groups fear demolitions could eventually clear the way for further Israeli settlement construction.
Eric Cortellessa and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.