Op-edAryeh King: We'll make life difficult for these two leftists

To the far-right, ‘leftists’ Netanyahu and Gallant are responsible for terror wave

Having received the government of their dreams that has approved unprecedented West Bank building, settler leaders and their allies struggle to find a scapegoat for violence

Shalom Yerushalmi

Shalom Yerushalmi is the political analyst for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew current affairs website

Gush Eztion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne'eman (center) speaks during a press conference with Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan (right) and Binyamin Regional Council head Yisrael Gantz, outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, August 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Gush Eztion Regional Council head Shlomo Ne'eman (center) speaks during a press conference with Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan (right) and Binyamin Regional Council head Yisrael Gantz, outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, August 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier this week, settler leaders wanted to erect a protest tent outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in order to demand the government take greater military action in the West Bank in response to the ongoing wave of terror attacks there. However, the bureaucrat in the municipality responsible for granting permits to such encampments was on vacation.

Settler leaders reached out to Aryeh King, a far-right ally and deputy mayor of Jerusalem, who told them to set up the tent illegally, hold their press conference and fold up after 45 minutes before anyone in the municipality would have enough time to ticket them.

And so it was. Shlomo Ne’eman, who chairs the Yesha umbrella council of settler mayors, Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan, Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz and South Hebron Regional Council chairman Yochai Damri pitched the protest tent that they’ve erected many times in the past and held their press conference.

This time, however, there was an added layer of awkwardness because they were protesting against the most right-wing government in the country’s history.

One by one, the settler mayors called on the government to launch a major campaign in the West Bank, or in the words of Dagan “a comprehensive military operation… in all of Judea and Samaria and wherever necessary.”

The settler leaders are torn. On the one hand, they admit that the current reality of regular terror attacks that have residents afraid to leave their homes has not been seen in the West Bank in many years.

On the other hand, this is all happening under the watch of a radical right-wing government they have been waiting for since the Six-Day War.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant issue a statement from the scene of a terror shooting near the West Bank city of Hebron, August 21, 2023. (GPO)

In the face of previous terror waves, settlers demanded the establishment of new settlements, the expansion of existing settlements and the legalization of wildcat outposts. But the West Bank is currently in the midst of its largest building boom ever. In the first half of 2023, the government advanced construction plans for over 13,000 settlement homes — more than any previous government green-lit in an entire year. It has also approved the building of extensive infrastructure projects and has moved to legalize over a dozen outposts.

And Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich plans to pour close to NIS 1 billion ($264 million) into settlement construction, in a move that will surely further antagonize the Biden administration.

So who is left for the settlers to blame? Opposition leader Yair Lapid?

This embarrassing state of affairs has been solved by the Yesha council in the following manner: They’ve divided the government and the army into right and left.

Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and the head of the IDF’s Central Command Yehuda Fox are the clear left who neglect the lives of the settlers; and Smotrich, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, most other ministers in Likud and MKs from the Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit parties are the indisputable right.

Never before have we seen such a division of the longtime allies of the settlement movement.

A source close to Smotrich told The Times of Israel’s sister site Zman Yisrael Tuesday: “The deterioration on the ground is terrible. Such a sequence of shooting attacks has not occurred in a long time. We are furious with Gallant for behaving like a leftist. We view the army as dealing with events as they occur and not taking the initiative on anything, and Gallant just accepts this reality. The Jenin operation was important, but it did not bring results, and it only happened after Ben Gvir threatened to bring down the government.”

King told The Times of Israel that settler leaders’ protest is “directed at the people who are responsible for what is happening on the ground: Netanyahu and Gallant. We let these two leftists run things, and this is the result. If they had transferred security powers to Smotrich and Ben Gvir, everything would be looking different. We are now going to make life difficult for these two leftists.”

Right-wing member of the Jerusalem city council Aryeh King in the Yemin Moshe neighborhood in Jerusalem, on May 17, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Pressed on how the longtime Likud prime minister could be considered a leftist, King pointed out that Netanyahu had several times in the past signed or backed agreements ceding West Bank territory to the Palestinians.

“That’s our problem with him. Anyone else in Likud who wouldn’t give a square meter from the Land of Israel would be better than Netanyahu,” argued the ultra-nationalist deputy mayor, who has a long history of incendiary comments against Palestinians, Arab Israelis, non-Orthodox Jews and Christians.

King speculated that what will come next in the West Bank will be “acts of revenge” by settlers who will operate out of “desperation.”

King and his allies understand that there will be no change in the government, that Smotrich will not become prime minister and that Ben Gvir will not replace Gallant as defense minister. They still hope that the pressure from the right-wing base will bring the country closer to more decisive military action.

King suggested that every terrorist be sentenced to death, that their family be deported and that their home be given to settlers so that they can start establishing Jewish settlements within Palestinian villages. King himself is a resident of Ma’ale Zeitim, an East Jerusalem enclave of ultra-nationalists established in the middle of the Palestinian neighborhood of Ras al-Amud.

Ira Rappaport, who was a member of the infamous Jewish Underground terrorist cell that operated in the 1980s, has even more extreme recommendations for how to deal with the terror wave: He called Tuesday for deporting half the village from which a terrorist resides.

“The Arabs want to kill us, eliminate the State of Israel and live under an Islamic state? Let them flee to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt or Gaza.”

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