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PM reviewing deal to relocate Khan al-Ahmar residents to Israel – report

Agreement, reportedly negotiated under Netanyahu, would see contentious Palestinian village demolished and its up to 200 denizens receive permanent residency status

Illustrative view of the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank, on March 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative view of the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank, on March 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is set to decide in the coming days on a deal negotiated under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that would see the residents of Khan al-Ahmar agree to vacate their West Bank village in exchange for permanent residency status in Israel, Channel 12 reported Monday night.

According to the unsourced report, an agreement reached in secret negotiations over the past two years between the state and the Palestinian residents of the Bedouin village would see them relocated to a village in the Negev and awarded Israeli passports and residency similar to that held by East Jerusalem Arabs.

In 2018, the Supreme Court approved the demolition of the village, which is located not far from Ma’aleh Adumim and is believed to be home to fewer than 200 Bedouin residents. Since 2018, the government has requested a series of delays in the demolition.

Despite the agreement of residents living in Khan al-Ahmar to leave in return for Israeli residency, the Israeli government failed to advance the deal during the previous two years of political turmoil, the report said.

Now, however, with the new government in place for over a month, the authority over the deal has reportedly been transferred from the Defense Ministry to the Prime Minister’s Office and Bennett is set to decide on it in the coming days.

That, according to the network, is the reason that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid sent a request on Sunday to Cabinet Secretary Shalom Shlomo and Attorney General Avichai Mandeblit asking for a further delay of the demolition.

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett at a conference of the Srugim news site above the West Bank Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar on March 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lapid wrote that the new government has only recently taken office, and “has not yet had time to examine the issue in depth independently and without relying on the conclusions of the previous government.”

Therefore, he wrote, noting that the demolition is a particularly “sensitive issue,” the government is requesting more time “to examine the necessary conditions for the evacuation of the outpost and to conduct a significant and in-depth inquiry of all the legal and international consequences of the move.”

In the past, several of the right-wing parties in the current coalition — including Bennett’s Yamina and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope — have criticized Netanyahu over his failure to carry out the demolition.

In December 2019, now Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman mocked Netanyahu for not demolishing the village out of fears it would trigger an investigation by the International Criminal Court. “I call on Prime Minister Netanyahu to get it together, to stop with the political spin and to stop looking for excuses not to do something, and to make an immediate decision to evict Khan al-Ahmar,” Liberman wrote at the time.

The Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem in the West Bank, is seen decorated with Palestinian flags on October 2, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)

The state says Khan al-Ahmar’s structures, mostly makeshift shacks and tents, were built without permits and pose a threat to the village residents because of their proximity to a highway.

Khan al-Ahmar’s Palestinian residents, members of the Jahalin tribe, say they arrived in the area in the 1950s after being displaced during the 1948 war. They recount practicing a nomadic lifestyle for years before putting down a permanent settlement.

The hamlet’s first structures appear in aerial photographs in the late 1970s. By the end of the 1980s, the tiny community’s presence in the area was recorded in contemporaneous academic accounts.

The camp slowly grew until the 1990s, when it seemed to expand much more rapidly. The community today remains small, numbering less than 200 residents.

Right-wing Israeli groups say that the aerial photos are proof that the village was only recently built, weakening their claim to the land. They further claim that the Palestinian Authority deliberately sent the residents there to take over strategic West Bank land.

Palestinians and left-wing groups reject that argument, saying the community’s presence predates the PA.

The villagers argue that they had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits, as such permits are almost never issued to Palestinians for building in parts of the West Bank, such as Khan Al-Ahmar, where Israel has full control over civilian affairs.

Currently, the residents are slated to be transferred several miles east, near the Palestinian town of Abu Dis once the village is demolished. The relocation site was hooked up to water, electricity, and sewage, and has a school to replace the current Italian-funded institution, which was constructed from mud-caked tires and has become a symbol for the village.

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