Gantz Gets Netanyahu to Delay Effort to Legalize Six West Bank Communities

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Signs pointing to the Asael outpost in the West Bank, January 2021.
Signs pointing to the Asael outpost in the West Bank, January 2021.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to pass a cabinet resolution Tuesday that would have legalized six communities in the West Bank, but the issue was taken off the agenda following opposition by Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Under the plan, three outposts would have been legalized and three new settlements that don’t yet exist would have been established.

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“No politically irresponsible proposal will be on the agenda during the cabinet meeting, especially in such a sensitive time,” Gantz said, referring to Israel’s problems in handling the coronavirus crisis.

Netanayahu and Gantz’s unity cabinet is currently a caretaker government in the run-up to the early election set for March 23.

Originally, the cabinet Tuesday was only due to discuss issues relating to the coronavirus, so Netanyahu surprised Gantz with the West Bank move.

The proposal would turn the outposts of Avigail, Asael and Kedem Arava into full-fledged settlements; the entirely new communities in question are Metzukei Dragot, Avnat and Tel Tzion.

The plan derives from a proposal by Settlement Affairs Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and the minister for civil affairs at the Defense Ministry, Michael Biton. The proposal includes a list of 46 outposts to be legalized, but ministry sources say the details have not been carefully set down.

Last week, Netanyahu tried to make progress on the issue by organizing a conference call with Attorney General Avicahi Mendelblit, Hanegbi, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin and an official from the National Security Council. Netanyahu complained about alleged delays in approving the plan and said “jurists” were getting in the way.

Sources said Mendelblit denied this and added that if Netanyahu wanted to organize something, he should provide instructions from the relevant political authorities.

Tuesday’s discussions were expected to call for Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank to be instructed to do the groundwork for authorizing more outposts said to have been built on state land. The administration would have presented its findings within 30 days.

The Civil Administration would have added five more jobs to its planning commission and eight in development, and would have received an extra 20 million shekels ($6.2 million) for further expenses.

In recent months, the settlers’ Yesha Council has campaigned intensively to win the authorization of outposts. Yesha members pitched a protest tent across from the Prime Minister’s Office, where some even launched a hunger strike during which one demonstrator was briefly hospitalized.

Israel has authorized many outposts over the years by declaring them neighborhoods of existing settlements, a step that did not require a cabinet decision. This week the Civil Administration advanced approval for two outposts, Nofei Nehemia and Havat Yair, as neighborhoods of existing nearby settlements.