In Israel, even politicians usually take the day off on Friday, but this week, nearly all were out and about on the airwaves, stumping either for or against Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s decision to evict dozens of Jews who had taken up residence in two newly acquired houses in Chevron.
Security forces early Friday entered the Avraham Avinu neighborhood of Chevron, adjacent to Me’aras Hamachpelah, and removed the Jews who had moved into the Beit Rachel and Beit Leah buildings a day earlier. Although the residents – as well as several government ministers and MKs – said that the buildings had been acquired legally, Ya’alon had demanded to see documentation attesting to the sale – which the residents are reticent to produce, in order not to endanger the lives of the former owners, who, by selling their property to Jews, are now subject to a death sentence by the Palestinian Authority.
In a statement released by Ya’alon’s office Friday, the Defense Minister said that while he is generally a supporter of Jews living in Judea and Samaria, “in this case the law was violated. Israel is a state of laws, and I do not intend to compromise on that principle for anyone. In order for those homes to be occupied by their new owners, a number of steps need to be taken, and the purchasers have failed to do so.” Among those steps was getting approval from his office for entry into the buildings, he said.
Ya’alon’s decision is not sitting well with MKs on the right. Earlier, in a social-media post, Jewish Home MK Betzalel Smotrich said that he, along with MKs Oren Chazan and Ayoub Kara, had informed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that they would “no longer be committed to coalition discipline” and would be “free to vote our conscience” if Ya’alon removed the residents. With only 61 members in his coalition, three missing votes could mean the demise of Netanyahu’s current government – and the scheduling of new elections.
Speaking to Israel Radio, Chazan was more explicit. “It would be best for the government if it did not propose any laws on Monday,” he said, because it was unlikely they would pass – and if the opposition declared them to be votes of no confidence, that would bring the government down. “It is unacceptable for the Defense Minister to run his own private policy, defying what the government has decided. I have been complaining for a long time about the Defense Minister’s implementation of a de facto building freeze. It stands to reason that anyone who buys a house should be able to live in it, whether it is in Tel Aviv or Chevron.”
On Thursday, Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin spoke at a ceremony welcoming the new residents to their homes, and stressed that the buildings had been purchased legally. “I congratulate the residents for their determination in expanding the Jewish presence in Chevron,” he said in remarks broadcast on Channel 1. “There are no legal issues involved in this purchase whatsoever.” Speaking on Israel Radio after the evacuation, Elkin said that Ya’alon “has made a terrible mistake. We are supposed to have a concept of collective responsibility in the government, and here one minister does as he wishes without even holding a cabinet discussion.”
The Jewish Home party also expressed anger at the move. In a media statement, the party said that “in the midst of a terror wave, we see how the Defense Minister is acting with determination and accepting no compromise – when it comes to throwing Jews out of their homes. It would be much better if the Defense Minister would use that same determination to fight Arab terror and to stop the massive illegal building in Arab villages. If there is a need to check the documentation on the purchase, this can be done without evicting the residents.”
Speaking later to Army Radio, Jewish Home MK Nissan Slomiansky, who chairs the Knesset Constitutional Committee, said that the Prime Minister needed to be cautious. “The previous government fell because it acted unilaterally without taking into account the ideas of its coalition partners. Unfortunately, with this act, and others, the Defense Minister is bringing us to a similar situation.”
Nevertheless, only Smotrich has said that he would vote against the coalition in response to the eviction. Jewish Home party head Naftali Bennett is unlikely to do so, according to right-wing activist and former MK Michael Ben-Ari. Speaking on Galey Yisrael Radio, Ben-Ari said that “we have seen how Bennett deals with these things, and we don’t expect much from him.” As for Smotrich and the others who threatened to bring the coalition down, Ben-Ari said, “We will be able to see as soon as Monday, when there is a no-confidence vote, how serious they are.”
MK Tzippy Livni (Zionist Camp) expressing support for Ya’alon. She said that “the criticism of Jewish Home and members of the Likud against the Defense Minister proves that it is not the defense of Israel that concerns them, but their ideology, which is dragging us closer to the ‘one-state solution’ and all that implies. Yehudah and Shomron are not the ‘wild west’ under the control of the hilltop youth.”
In his comments, Ya’alon said that he “calls on all the ministers, MKs, and public figures to act responsibly and restrain themselves. They should be supporting the rule of law, not encouraging the breaking of the law. Some of the comments I have heard are borderline dangerous, and they endanger our national consensus. I am as big a supporter of settlement as anyone, but I will not compromise on the rule of law.”