Three right-wing Knesset members on Friday threatened to boycott coalition votes at the plenum after the Defense Ministry ordered the evacuation of Jewish settlers from two Hebron homes they had occupied under contested circumstances.
MKs Oren Hazan and Ayoub Kara of Likud, as well as MK Bezalel Smotrich of Jewish Home, said they would not attend Knesset votes until the settlers were allowed back into the buildings.
The ultimatum by the three MKs could pose a serious threat to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenuous coalition, which holds only a 61-59 seat majority in the parliament.
Border Police forces evacuated several dozen Jewish settlers from the two houses in Hebron on Friday morning, a day after the settlers entered the buildings, claiming they had bought them from Palestinians. Security officials said the decision to clear them was made by the Defense Ministry.
The Jewish Home party, in an official statement, decried Ya’alon’s decision to “throw Jews out of their homes…at the height of a wave of terror.” The party called the move “irresponsible, bullheaded and inflammatory with no clear reason.” It advised Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to save such decisive action “for fighting Arab terror and clearly illegal construction in the terrorists’ communities.”
Meanwhile Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli warned that “if Netanyahu cares about maintaining the coalition he had better intervene and restrain (Ya’alon).”
She claimed that “time after time homes are purchased legally within a web of complications, but once again the defende minister orders them evicted or demolished without a fair legal process being conducted.” She warned that if the policy, as well as the decision on the Hebron homes, were not changed — the party would discuss its next steps when it convenes on Monday.
Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin of Likud also criticized the evacuation, saying that “this is a time to fight terror and support and strengthen the settlements, not fight the settlers.” He urged Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to allow the settlers to reenter the buildings.
Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) said that, if the homes were indeed purchased legally, the settlers should be allowed to return. “Settlement is an important Zionist act and we should persist in it,” she said.
Meanwhile, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of Likud urged authorities “to quickly ascertain the legality of the purchase and not to inflame the situation by evacuating settlers.”
He said that “in times when our enemies try to harm not just our bodies but our rights to the land,” it would have been preferable “to wait with the evacuation and review the legal options to bolster the settlers, while maintaining the rule of law.”
Ya’alon brushed off the criticism, saying the inhabitants had acted in “brazen” breach of the law, and urging lawmakers to calm their fiery rhetoric on the matter.
“The State of Israel is a nation of laws, and I have no intention of compromising when the law is broken,” he said in a statement.
“I call on the ministers, Knesset members and elected to officials to act responsibly, to restrain their remarks and to support the rule of law, and not to encourage (individuals) to take the law into their own hands and break it,” Ya’alon said, adding that “the conduct and statements of several politicians on this matter borders on wild abandon and damages our national fortitude.”
Ya’alon received support from the left in the form of a statement from Peace Now, which welcomed the evacuation.
“The government, not right-wing groups, must decide whether to settle and when, after an extensive and thorough examination into the genuineness of the deal,” it said. “Even if the settlers paid for the buildings, the entire Israeli public will pay the military and diplomatic costs of expanding the settlements in the heart of Hebron.”
The military has now forbidden entry into the buildings, and guards have been posted outside to prevent anyone from going in.
The settlers entered the homes near the Tomb of the Patriarchs on Thursday, using crowbars to break in, and raising the Israeli flag on the roof. They claimed the homes were secretly bought from the Palestinian owners.
Palestinians said the buildings were taken over illegally and they clashed with the settlers. The riots were broken up by security forces.
The only shared city in the West Bank, Hebron has for decades seen almost daily friction between its community of several hundred Jewish settlers and its much larger Palestinian population.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs, shared by Jews and Muslims, who both revere it as the final resting place of the Biblical Abraham and his kin, has been a particular source of tension in the city.
Judah Ari Gross and Lee Gancman contributed to this report.