A far-right minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government said that a law repealing legislation that ordered the evacuation of four West Bank settlements was a step on the way to re-occupying and resettling the Gaza Strip, a move that she acknowledged would cause “many casualties.”
The law, which won some support from opposition members including National Unity’s Gideon Sa’ar and Ze’ev Elkin, repeals the clauses of the Disengagement Law that banned Israelis from the area where the settlements of Homesh, Ganim, Kadim and Sa-Nur once stood, paving the way for settlers to return. The four communities were the only West Bank settlements to be cleared during the Disengagement from Gaza close to 18 years ago. The new law, passed in the early hours of Tuesday, applies to those areas only.
“Our first step will be to legalize the Homesh Yeshiva and then we will gradually renew settlement [in the area],” said Minister of National Missions Orit Strock, hailing the new legislation in a Tuesday interview with the right-wing Israel National News outlet. The next step, she predicted, will be a return to the Gaza Strip.
“I believe that, at the end of the day, the sin of the disengagement will be reversed,” Strock said. “I don’t know how long it will take. Sadly, a return to the Gaza Strip will involve many casualties, just as the departure from the Gaza Strip came with many casualties. But ultimately it is part of the Land of Israel, and a day will come when we will return to it.”
In 2005, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon masterminded the unilateral evacuation of Jewish settlements in Gaza and handed the area over to Palestinian rule, ending 38 years of Israeli military control of the territory. The Hamas terror group has ruled Gaza since 2007 when it ousted the Palestinian Authority in a bloody coup.
Since then Israel has fought several wars with Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorists in a bid to stop the tens of thousands of rockets that have been fired at Israel. Israeli incursions into Gaza have faced bitter resistance and more than 80 IDF soldiers have been killed.
Hamas also holds the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in 2014, alongside two Israeli civilians who entered the Strip.
Labor party leader Merav Michaeli slammed Strock’s comments.
“This crazy behavior from Orit Strock and her promises to return Israel to the bloody quagmire of Gaza, just reiterates again and again that the greatest danger to Israel comes from extremist settlers,” Michaeli said Wednesday. “In order to fulfill their messianic fanaticism, their leadership is willing to waste the lives of our soldiers.”
Unlike the Gaza Strip, which the IDF pulled out of entirely, the army remains deployed in many areas of the West Bank, including the sites of the evacuated settlements.
The destroyed West Bank towns have become a symbol to settlement supporters of an injustice they have sought to undo, while to Palestinians the areas are another section of West Bank territory stripped from them.
The repeal, approved in a first Knesset reading less than a week ago, will bolster the coalition’s efforts to legalize a wildcat outpost currently occupying the site of Homesh and a yeshiva that has been built there, which activists have tried repeatedly to reestablish since 2005.
Repealing restrictions on Jewish entry was a required step toward legalizing the outpost. Homesh is built on private Palestinian land, according to a High Court ruling. The head of the IDF Central Command will still need to sign a military order allowing Israelis to return to those areas.
The repealing of the disengagement law in the northern West Bank was met with fierce criticism from the international community, including from Israel’s closest ally, the United States.
On Tuesday Israel’s ambassador to the US was summoned to the State Department for an unscheduled meeting in a rare move by the Biden administration aimed at escalating its protest against the Knesset’s passage of the law, a US official told The Times of Israel.
A readout issued by the US after Ambassador Mike Herzog’s meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said the American official “conveyed US concern” regarding the aspects of the 2005 Disengagement Law that the Knesset voted to rescind, including the prohibition on establishing settlements in the northern West Bank.
Hours earlier, State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel opened the daily press briefing with a lengthy statement condemning the Knesset vote revoking parts of the Disengagement Law, arguing that the move flew in the face of Israeli commitments to the US.
Patel said the US is “extremely troubled” by the legislation, noting that Homesh, was built on private Palestinian land.
The law “represents a clear contradiction of understandings the Israeli government made to the United States,” he continued, pointing to a letter then-prime minister Ariel Sharon sent to then-US president George W. Bush some 20 years ago in which the premier committed to evacuating the four northern West Bank settlements.
The EU’s foreign policy arm released a statement calling for the Knesset to reverse the legislation, which it said was “counterproductive to deescalation efforts, and hampers the possibility to pursue confidence-building measures and create a political horizon for dialogue.”