Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his adviser on settlement affairs Monday, sparking outrage among settler leaders who viewed the senior aide as their ally in the Defense Ministry, which is responsible for authorizing Israeli construction beyond the Green Line.
Kobi Eliraz was appointed by former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon five years ago. He stayed on through the changing of the guards to serve under Avigdor Liberman and most recently Netanyahu himself. An associate of Eliraz’s told The Times of Israel that while the aide was not given a reason for the axing, it was made clear to him that it had to do with Eliraz’s ties to Liberman and Ya’alon, who have become political rivals of the prime minister in recent months and years.
Ya’alon quit the Likud party after Netanyahu decided to give Liberman his post to make room for the latter’s entry into the coalition in 2016. Ya’alon has since formed the Telem party, which is now part of the Blue and White slate, and he has used the new platform to regularly criticize Netanyahu as corrupt and un-statesmanlike.
Liberman has enjoyed a roller-coaster-like relationship with Netanyahu over the years, working as the director of the Likud leader’s Prime Minister’s Office in the late 1990s and taking on several posts in Netanyahu governments throughout the past two decades.
However, relations hit a new low last month when the Yisrael Beytenu refused to join the premier’s coalition, initiating this year’s second round of elections that will be held on September 17.
“Kobi didn’t care who he was working for. He showed up to work every day with the sole goal in mind of helping settlement,” the former adviser’s associate said. “Unfortunately, everything with Bibi is politics,” he added, using the prime minister’s nickname.
The PMO did not respond to request for comment.
The Yesha Council, an umbrella organization for settlements, published an open letter just hours after news of the firing went public, calling on Netanyahu to reconsider the decision.
“Kobi has taken care of Israeli settlement and its residents with great professionalism. He is credited for many advancements [on our behalf] in the fields of construction, infrastructure development, security and more,” read the letter signed by nearly two dozen West Bank regional and local council chairs.
The letter suggested that the dismissal could seriously hinder efforts by the government to legalize various wildcat projects throughout the West Bank as Eliraz was seen as one of the ministry’s most well-versed officials in the complex legal factors at play beyond the Green Line.
The Yesha Council in recent years has struggled to get all of its members on board with its initiative, but the umbrella group’s ability to gather the signatures of every Israeli mayor beyond the Green Line is testament to the broad respect that Eliraz holds among settler leaders.
One rumored candidate to replace Eliraz has been Shiloh Adler, the former director general of the council. Adler, a neighbor of Eliraz’s in the central West Bank settlement of Eli, served as a strategic consultant for Netanyahu’s Likud party during the last election.