Netanyahu Ordered Evacuation of Hebron Home Over Fears of War Crimes Suits

AG's fear of legal action against Israeli officials at The Hague also reason for state's hesitance regarding authorization of the Ulpana Hill West Bank outpost.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the evacuation of a Hebron home taken by settlers last month after being informed that the expropriation of Palestinian homes and lands could complicate Israeli officials in war crimes litigation, Haaretz learned on Sunday.

Last month, Israeli security forces evacuated Israeli settlers from a house in a Palestinian neighborhood in Hebron, in a surprise move that ended an affair that sparked controversy across Israel and caused a rift in the government.

Senior officials in the prime minister's office said at the time that the evacuation was carried out after careful coordination between the defense minister and the prime minister. Nevertheless, Netanyahu's aides went on the defensive against right-wing criticism and said that the premier had no choice but to approve the evacuation out of security and legal consideration.

The aides said that during the late night discussion prior to the evacuation no decisions were made regarding the immediate evacuation of the house.

However, in a meeting between Netanyahu, Barak, and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on the morning of the evacuation, the AG reportedly presented his legal opinion, according to which a lack of strict adherence to the law on the matter could complicate Israel in an international legal crisis.

Weinstein reportedly told Netanyahu and Barak that the expropriation of Palestinian land and homes, such as the Hebron takeover, could lead to Israeli officials being indicted at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Barak then claimed that the house must be evacuated before the Passover holiday, which led to Netanyahu's order to clear the Hebron outpost.

Sources in the Justice Ministry indicated that they fear the State of Israel or Israeli officials could be charged by the ICC, in operation since 2002. According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, an occupier moving population into occupied land constitutes a war crime.

Weinstein also repeated his stance concerning the contentious Ulpana Hill neighborhood of the West Bank settlement of Beit El.

The AG also expressed his opinion concerning the kind of High Court-bypassing laws suggested by some in the right in order to sanction outposts and settlements found illegal by the court.

Weinstein reportedly expressed the legal system's opposition to the legislation of such laws and warned against what he said were the far-reaching legal consequences of such legislation, since the High Court is viewed around the world as a check maintaining the rule of law.

As of now, among the team of ministers dealing with the issue, Netanyahu, Barak, and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon oppose such a law, citing, among other reasons, the AG's opposition. Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, however, supports such legislation, with the stance of new Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz not yet clear.

A spokesperson at the Justice Ministry refused to comment on the issue.

Earlier Sunday, a ministerial legislation panel rejected a bill geared at applying Israeli law on settlements in the West Bank, following an intervention by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman.

The justice minister's move came after it had become apparent that the bill would pass the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, after nine of the panel's members indicated that they would back the legislation.

At that point, Neeman attempted to convince the bill's initiator Likud MK Miri Regev to postpone the vote to a later date, in a bid to avert a head-on collision between Netanyahu's government and the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.

As a result of Regev's continued insistence, Neeman made it clear that it was Netanyahu's position to vote against the bill, at which point panel members reversed their original votes.

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