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Yesha leader faces rebellion for backing coalition bill crucial to settlers

Led by Likud-aligned movement, dozens of local council members call for David Elhayani’s resignation for not backing an opposition boycott of pro-settler West Bank legislation

Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Elhayani attends a press conference of the Yesha Council outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, August 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Elhayani attends a press conference of the Yesha Council outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, August 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Dozens of settlement local council members have signed a letter calling for the head of the Yesha settlement umbrella group to resign, after he urged support for a bill that is crucial for the settler movement.

The coalition failed to pass the bill last week, and has said it might try to bring it to another vote this week. The current measure expires June 30.

All right-wing parties in the Knesset in principle back the bill, which seeks to renew a longstanding measure extending Israeli law to West Bank settlers. But right-wing opposition parties are nonetheless opposing it in order to embarrass and help bring down the current government. The councilors are angry at David Elhayani for not lining up behind the opposition to oppose the bill.

Members urged their councils to pull out of the Yesha Council until chairman Elhayani leaves. The letter said that the matter should be brought up at the next Yesha council meeting.

Elhayani is a member of the coalition’s New Hope party. New Hope party leader Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar has said that passing the bill would be a test of the government’s ability to survive, and Elhayani published a letter imploring right-wing opposition parties to back the legislation.

Likud and other allied opposition parties have vowed not to support any coalition-backed law, regardless of ideology. The bill was defeated last week with some coalition lawmakers also voting against it, or skipping the vote, highlighting the government’s shaky position in the Knesset, where it no longer has a majority and holds just 60 seats, equal to that of the opposition.

Many West Bank councils also opposed the bill, even though it is to their benefit, as they see its potential failure as hastening the end of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government — an alliance of parties from the left, center and right, as well as Ra’am, an Islamist party.

Some settlement councils have already backed the campaign against Elhayani, including Kiryat Arba, which unanimously voted Sunday in favor of it.

Kiryat Arba said in a statement that it will call for Elhayani’s resignation because Yesha “needs a leader who supports a government of right-wing values of the nationalist camp, a leader who represents the nationalist spirit and settlement in the Holy Land.”

The Beit El settlement also voted in favor of the strategy. Mayor Shai Alon told the Israel Hayom daily that it had reached a point where “for the benefit of the settlements, the chair of the [Yesha] council must end his role.”

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 12, 2022 (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/POOL)

Oded Revivi, mayor of Efrat, one of the largest settlements, also said in a statement that he supports a change in Yesha leadership, though he did not mention Elhayani by name, the religious website Kipa reported.

The campaign against Elhayani is being led by the Melukadim movement, which describes itself as the platform for nationalist groups within former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

Melukadim said in a statement that Elhayani “doesn’t represent the clear majority of [West Bank] residents, and is creating a rift with the rest of the nationalist camp.”

Elhayani, also chairman of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, became Yesha leader in 2019.

The legislation that the coalition is seeking to renew was enacted following the Six Day War in 1967. It extends Israeli criminal and civil law to Israeli citizens living in West Bank settlements, enabling them to be judged in civil courts and maintain access to Israeli HMOs. Palestinians living in the West Bank remain under Israeli military law, which itself is based on pre-1967 Jordanian law in the West Bank.

The bill failed 52-58 in a dramatic vote last Monday after Meretz party MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi and Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim voted against it, and Ra’am’s other lawmakers and rebel Yamina MK Idit Silman were absent from the plenum. The bill’s failure endangered the chances of passing the measure before a June 30 deadline and further imperiled the teetering coalition.

Sa’ar has warned of legal chaos for settlers if the law, an “emergency measure” renewed every five years, is not reapproved. He has said he wants to bring the bill for another vote this week, but apparently still lacks a majority of supporting MKs to pass it.

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