Ben-Gvir: We will not compromise on any hill; this is ours'

Smotrich, Ben Gvir respond to Biden: Jews have right to build everywhere in West Bank

Far-right ministers assert Israel’s right to unlimited settlement construction, a day after US president laments ‘some of the most extreme members’ he’s even seen in Israeli gov’t

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich leads a Knesset faction meeting of his far-right Religious Zionism party, July 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich leads a Knesset faction meeting of his far-right Religious Zionism party, July 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Far-right cabinet ministers slapped back at US President Joe Biden on Monday, a day after he said Israel’s coalition government had some “of the most extreme members” he had ever seen.

Biden added that the ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet who back settling “anywhere they want” in the West Bank are “part of the problem” in the ongoing conflict.

In response, Religious Zionism party head and adamant settlement advocate Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, said it is Biden’s “right to express criticism,” and it is “our right and our duty to continue to act to fulfill the mission of the citizens of Israel, to defend ourselves and build our homeland.”

The United States “wants two states for two peoples and we think it’s suicide,” continued Smotrich, who also holds a ministerial post in the Defense Ministry that grants him extensive authority over settlement construction.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who joins Smotrich as one of the White House’s personae non gratae, said that “the USA is our wonderful friend and we love it, but I say to President Biden: The Land of Israel is for the people of Israel, according to the Torah of Israel.”

“We will not compromise on the Land of Israel. We will not compromise on any step. We will not compromise on any hill, on any outpost. This is ours,” the Otzma Yehudit party chief said, referring to the greater, biblical territory that encompasses the West Bank.

Settlement activists, one of whom is wearing a prayer shawl and tefillin, at a construction of the illegal West Bank outpost of Homesh, May 29, 2023. (Flash90)

Since Smotrich took over parts of West Bank construction policy, Israel has shifted a number of its settlement policy points to the right — granting building permits, tacitly allowing settlers to return to the contentious outposts of Evyatar and Homesh, and repealing longstanding prohibitions against Jewish settlement in four towns in the northern Samaria region of the West Bank. There has also been a marked uptick in Jewish violence against Palestinian communities, most publicly in response to terror attacks.

Opposition party leader Benny Gantz accused Netanyahu of catering to Smotrich and Ben Gvir, alongside capitulating to Justice Minister Yariv Levin on several elements of Levin’s plan to curb judicial checks on political power.

“I am disturbed that Netanyahu is sacrificing the strategic needs of the State of Israel in order to please Yariv Levin, Smotrich and Ben Gvir,” Gantz said at his National Unity party’s Knesset faction meeting.

“This is a betrayal of the security of Israel’s citizens and its strategic goals,” said former defense minister Gantz, arguing that the Biden administration’s concerns in the long term could presage “a threat to Israel’s security supremacy in the region.”

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