3 settler leaders boycott PM meeting, saying ‘we’re being given the runaround’

3 settler leaders boycott PM meeting, saying ‘we’re being given the runaround’

Samaria, Binyamin, Kiryat Arba council heads ‘see no value’ in confab while their demands for substantial settlement building, return of West Bank roadblocks are ignored

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Yossi Dagan, the head of Shomron Regional Council, addresses the 14th annual B'Sheva Jerusalem Conference on February 12, 2017. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yossi Dagan, the head of Shomron Regional Council, addresses the 14th annual B'Sheva Jerusalem Conference on February 12, 2017. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A hawkish flank of settler leaders peeled away from their colleagues Wednesday and announced they would boycott a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over what they maintained was the premier’s refusal to take seriously their demands for an increase in settlement construction and the reinstitution of West Bank roadblocks in response to the latest spate of Palestinian violence.

In a letter to the 20 other Israeli council chairmen in the West Bank, Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan, Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz and Kiryat Arba Regional Council chairman Eliyahu Libman said they would forgo the Wednesday morning meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office, asserting that Netanyahu was “giving them the runaround” with “false promises regarding security and because he has not done enough to develop settlements.”

“In the past few months, we have experienced severe terror attacks, in which Kim Levengrond Yehezkel, Ziv Hajbi, baby Amiad Yisrael Ish-Ran, Staff Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef and Sgt. Yosef Cohen were murdered,” the trio wrote.

Yehezkel and Hajbi were killed in an October terror shooting at the Barkan Industrial Park; Amiad Ish-Ran, a newborn, died three days after he was delivered in an emergency C-section, his mother having been shot while waiting at a bus stop outside the Ofra settlement; and soldiers Yosef and Cohen were shot dead while guarding a bus stop near the Givat Assaf outpost.

Eliyahu Libman, witness in the trial against Elor Azaria, during a hearing at a military court in Jaffa, August 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Dagan, Gantz and Libman said that in subsequent meetings with the prime minister and his staff, their demands — to cancel a NIS 400 million ($106 million) cut to West Bank security funding, to reinstitute roadblocks against Palestinian traffic in the area, to bolster IDF forces beyond the Green Line that had since been dispatched elsewhere and to substantially expand settlement building — were not met.

“Once again, as if we are beggars at the door, we are expected to submissively accept and even praise the announcement of a few building plans… which cannot in any way be seen as a real breakthrough,” the trio wrote.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction advanced plans for over 1,700 settlement homes. The projects advanced included one for 82 homes in Ofra, which Netanyahu had vowed would be green-lit in response to the attack that killed Amiad Ish-Ran and wounded his parents and five others.

Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan (L) and Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz. (Roy Hadi)

Netanyahu also said he had directed the Defense Ministry to advance construction of industrial zones in Beitar Illit and Avnei Hefetz. These plans, which were already in the works before the attack, were green-lit at Wednesday’s High Planning Subcommittee session. Each of the plans that the prime minister vowed to approve were already in the works before this month’s spate of attacks took place.

Kim Levengrond Yehezkel, 29 (left), and Ziv Hajbi, 35, who were killed in a terror shooting in the Barkan industrial zone in the West Bank, October 7, 2018 (screenshots: Facebook)

“In this current state of affairs, we see no value in a meeting whose entire purpose is to create an idyllic picture of partnership, with no real meaning behind it,” Dagan, Gantz and Libman wrote.

For its part, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying the meeting “would be held as planned with the heads of local authorities interested in discussing ways to strengthen their communities.”

The Yesha settlement umbrella council also released a statement condemning the move by their three more hawkish members, but chose to specifically single out Dagan.

The Samaria Regional Council chairman is the veteran among the three, with Gantz and Libman having only assumed their positions last month. Dagan has long chosen to work alone, outside the Yesha Council, holding periodic protests outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, against the will of the umbrella body.

With the election of several more hawkish council chairmen, among them Gantz and Lipman, the influence of the more right-wing flank of settler leaders is expected to grow.

A photo composite shows Sgt. Yosef Cohen, left, and Staff Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef of the IDF’s Kfir Brigade. Israel Defense Forces)

Both Dagan and Gantz are members of the Likud Central Committee, and the Samaria Council chairman in particular holds considerable clout in the prime minister’s party. The pair exploited that influence to recruit ministers to attend their protest against the government’s response to the recent spate of Palestinian violence.

In addition to the Yesha Council, individual settler leaders have also chosen to speak out against their more hawkish colleagues.

Efrat Local Council chairman Oded Revivi called the boycott “insolent” and damaging to the settlement movement.

“The attempt to twist Netanyahu’s arm because of the upcoming elections does not bring respect for us. When the prime minister summons, you come. Those who oppose boycotts cannot boycott themselves,” said Revivi in a statement apparently referring to Dagan’s recent work to combat Airbnb’s decision to drop its listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Prime Minister Netanyahu in the West Bank settlement of Barkan, June 25, 2013 (photo credit: courtesy GPO)

Last week, Jordan Valley Regional Council chairman David Elhayahi accused fellow settler leaders of “dancing on the blood” of terror victims in order to push an agenda benefiting settlements.

“We have all the reasons during the rest of the year to protest the government’s neglect of Judea and Samaria [West Bank] residents, but to do so while people are still burying their loved ones is immoral,” he told The Times of Israel.

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