A protest outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem to demand funding for a West Bank infrastructure project went ahead Sunday evening despite Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge that his cabinet will convene next week to approve a budget for the security measures.
Some 300 people attended the rally organized by the Samaria Regional Council, including families of terror attack victims and cabinet ministers.
“We have come here tonight at the request of the bereaved families to tell you, Mr. Prime Minister, that the security of the half a million residents in Judea and Samaria cannot be abandoned,” council chairman Yossi Dagan shouted to a cheering crowd, using the biblical names for areas of the West Bank.
“You’ve promised and you’ve promised, but the only thing that has changed is the new names of those killed in attacks [on West Bank roads],” he continued. “I call on the prime minister: Convene your cabinet already this evening to approve the budget that will prevent the next attack.”
In a meeting with settler leaders last week, Netanyahu promised to earmark NIS 800 million ($228 million) for West Bank roads and infrastructure development. But Dagan and some of the more hawkish settler leaders have expressed incredulity at Netanyahu’s promises and have launched a campaign for the funds to be transferred immediately.
Also addressing the crowd of demonstrators Sunday evening was 12-year-old Itai Mizrachi, whose father, Baruch, was gunned down in an attack near Hebron in April 2014 as he drove to a family Passover Seder. “I remember the shots, the screams and the pain. This year I will celebrate my bar mitzvah, but my father’s absence is more noticeable than ever.”
Dagan also seemed to have utilized his substantial clout within the Likud party’s Central Committee to bring several government ministers, including Welfare Minister Haim Katz, Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara.
In their respective addresses, each assured demonstrators that Netanyahu was serious in his pledge to increase security on West Bank roads.
Coalition lawmakers Uri Ariel, Eli Ben Dahan, Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, and Bezalel Smotrich from the Jewish Home party were also in attendance.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely assured protesters that Netanyahu “has committed himself to the issue of safety and to finance it appropriately.” Still, she said to the prime minister, “We believe you, but we are talking here about saving lives. Why wait?”
During a meeting of coalition leaders earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu’s chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, said the prime minister would meet with relevant government ministers next week to finalize the budget for the comprehensive security and infrastructure package.
The NIS 800 million ($228 million) plan will include the paving of bypass roads around Palestinian towns and settlements to reduce friction between the populations, the installation of cellphone towers to improve reception for settlers who may need to call for help, the installation of streetlights throughout West Bank roads where lighting is poor, and the bolstering of armored buses that travel through the West Bank.
With the majority of West Bank local council heads not present Sunday evening, it was clear that Dagan — even with the bereaved families at his side — was not representing a united front among the settlers.
Speaking with The Times of Israel last week, the settlement umbrella council chairman, Avi Roeh, said that his organization trusts the prime minister and is therefore not taking part in the protests.
While he insisted that Dagan had every right to campaign, Roeh said that such protests should only be a last resort employed in a scenario where the government is ignoring the requests of settlers.
Roeh pointed to his meeting with the prime minister last week, which he argued was what led to the NIS 800 million pledge that is expected to go into effect at the start of the 2018 fiscal year.
“We were able to reach this significant achievement civilly and behind closed doors,” he said.
Asked why he thought Dagan was still able to attract so many high-profile lawmakers from Netanyahu’s own coalition and party, Roeh suggested that those in attendance were trying to improve their standing in the Likud primaries.
“They have every right to do that,” he added diplomatically.