Settler Takeover of Hebron House Prompts Rift in Israeli Government

Deputy PM slams Defense Minister Barak for pushing for the evacuation of settlers from a Hebron house by April 25, says the defense minister should be stripped of authority over the West Bank.

The controversial takeover by settlers of a house in a Palestinian neighborhood in Hebron has turned into a fierce debate between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who said Wednesday that Barak must be stripped of all authority over the West Bank settlements.

During late night discussions on Tuesday, a senior defense official said that Barak, along with a ministerial committee, agreed that a Hebron house that has been occupied by settlers for nearly two weeks should be evacuated by April 25.

Border Patrol - Hebron
Emil Salman

Yaalon, who participated in the special ministerial meeting on Tuesday night, criticized Barak's decision and said that authority over issues regarding Judea and Samaria settlements must be taken away from Barak, and given to a committee of ministers. Barak is not solving any problems or signing any urban building plans.

Ehud Barak is acting against the government and against the settlements in Judea and Samaria, all that he is doing is fanning the flames, Ya'alon said Wednesday during a closed discussion.

"It is imperative to check that the settlers documents of sale are not counterfeit. If it turns out that they are in order, the purchase must be approved and the settlers allowed entry. This is not a national, or a defense issues, the property rights need to be checked. Why does the defense minister claim that such a check will take weeks when it can be done in a few days?

Defense Minister Ehud Barak fired back at Ya'alon on Wednesday, claiming that the deputy prime minister is making comments against him out of political considerations.

Unfortunately, Minister Yaalon is combining cheap political concerns with defense decisions, harming the governments ability to protect democracy and law and order," officials close to Barak said.

A senior defense official with knowledge of the details of the meeting explained that a decision was reached to evacuate the house if in fact it has been occupied illegally, considering the fact that settlers entered the house without the proper permits from the Civil Administration.

Legal experts that participated in the meeting explained that evacuation must take place within 30 days of the initial entry, meaning by April 25. If the settlers do not evacuate of their own volition, they will be evacuated by force, said the defense official. Discussions of the matter are expected to continue on Wednesday.

A senior secretary with knowledge of the discussion informed that the sale documents in the settlers possession will be checked again within the coming days to determine if they are real or counterfeit. One of the possibilities that arose in the discussion was an official request to the settlers to return to their original homes until the issue was cleared up. Currently, while the facts are being determined, soldiers will guard the house, in order to protect from being taken over by Palestinians, said the senior secretary, if it turns out that the purchase was legal, the settlers will be allowed to return.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman commented on the events surrounding the house in Hebron, which has been occupied by Jewish settlers since last week. Lieberman criticized the decisions of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and even hinted at a possible rift in the governing coalition.

"I'm concerned by one-sided moves by coalition partners," Lieberman said. "We made great efforts to keep the coalition together. Yisrael Beiteinu made a major contribution toward that."