Netanyahu angers right over illegal Bedouin outpost

Prime Minister Netanyahu postponed a scheduled demolition of an illegal Bedouin outpost.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

On Sunday afternoon, Israel’s Security Cabinet reaffirmed its commitment to evacuate the illegal Bedouin outpost of Khan al-Ahmar. However, it granted an extension of several weeks in order to exhaust negotiations for evacuation.

On Saturday evening, Prime Minister Netanyahu sparked a firestorm of anger from Israel’s right when he announced the delay of the illegal outpost’s destruction.

It appeared Netanyahu caved to pressure from the International Criminal Court at The Hague. Last Wednesday, the chief prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, warned Israel that the demolition of the outpost could constitute a war crime.

Right’s reaction

Right-wing members of the government’s ruling coalition expressed anger at the prime minister’s move. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the decision came despite his “resolute opposition.” Education Minister Naftali Bennett insisted the Bedouin outpost would be uprooted regardless of what the international community thought.

Regavim, an NGO involved in land issues, which has fought to have the outpost removed, slammed the prime minister in a strongly worded statement. “Tonight’s decision reeks of cowardice and makes a laughingstock of Israel’s sovereignty and commitment to law and order,” the group’s statement read.

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“If the Prime Minister does not come to his senses quickly … the Palestinian Authority’s hostile takeover will be Netanyahu’s lasting legacy of shame. The Prime Minister cannot shift the blame in the direction of the Supreme Court; he has no one to blame but himself,” it said.

Israel’s high court  rejected a final appeal against plans to demolish Khan al-Ahmar this summer. Naomi Kahn, Director of the International Division of Regavim, said, “Ten years of discussion ended when the Supreme Court said all possible avenues for compromise have been explored.”

Kahn says that Netanyahu may have delayed the demolition in order to entertain a proposal presented by the Bedouin to move their outpost a few hundred meters from the road. Khan al-Ahmar directly abuts Highway 1, a strategically critical route that links Jerusalem with the south of the country.

“In our opinion, this will be worse than letting them stay,” Kahn said, referring to the reported proposal. It would be the first time Israel granted legal recognition to Palestinian building in the E1 area, she says.

E1 is a 12-kilometer zone east of Jerusalem which falls entirely under Israeli sovereignty. Regavim says the Palestinian Authority has devised a plan to take E1 for itself. Khan al-Amar is part and parcel of that plan.

Netanyahu denied reversal

At a Sunday morning press conference, the prime minister denied he had changed his position vis a vis Khan al-Ahmar, saying the delay was only “for a short period.”

“Khan al-Ahmar will be evacuated,” he said, noting it was the decision of Israel’s Supreme Court. “This is our policy and it will be carried out.”

The Security Council’s decision later in the day appeared to confirm the prime minister’s remarks.