Israeli Defense Minister's New Settlement Aide Isn't a Settler, in First Since 2015

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Hagar Shezaf
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The unauthorized outpost of Evyatar, which was evacuated in July.
The unauthorized outpost of Evyatar, which was evacuated in July.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

Defense Minster Benny Gantz's adviser on settlement affairs, Avi Roeh, will be stepping down and for the first time in six years will be replaced by someone who is not a resident of a West Bank settlement.

Roeh, a former chairman of the Yesha Council of Jewish settlements, is a resident of the settlement of Kochav Yaakov. His successor will be Avi Elimelech, who worked for 25 years in the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, but unlike Roeh and his predecessor, Kobi Eliraz, is not a resident of the territories and is not identified with settlement interests. Elimelech lives in the Tel Aviv suburb of Kiryat Ono.

The defense minister's settlement adviser is considered a highly influential position when it comes to what happens in the settlements. The post has existed for many years and has been filled not only by figures identified with the settlement movement, such as Roeh and Eliraz, but also people affiliated with the kibbutz movement.

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In 2015, the defense minister at the time, Moshe Ya'alon, changed the character of the post with the appointment of Eliraz, a resident of the settlement of Eli, who was later succeeded by Roeh. The two had greater influence than their predecessors and took a more sympathetic stance toward the settlements and unauthorized West Bank Jewish outposts. After Gantz assumed office as defense minister in May of last year, he kept Roeh on as settlement adviser.

The position is considered an especially powerful one, in part because it influences the government's position before the High Court of Justice on petitions filed in land cases in the West Bank. The adviser also sets priorities concerning law enforcement in the outposts.

The Defense Ministry has the authority to jump-start the planning process and to designate outposts as neighborhoods of authorized settlements – without the necessity of a cabinet resolution, which would attract greater public attention. During his tenure in the position, Eliraz presided over a great deal of preparatory work related to such outposts.

“Eliraz didn't come from the field of law, but he became an expert in land law," Oded Revivo, the mayor of the settlement of Efrat, said of Roeh's predecessor as settlement adviser. "He would sit with the legal advisers over the maps and find solutions.”

While Eliraz was in office, the legal adviser on settlement to then-Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked was Amir Fisher, a former lawyer for the Regavim settlement advocacy movement. The two were seen as having major influence over the government's stance before the High Court of Justice. Fisher was recently appointed a settlement adviser to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Elimelech, Gantz's new appointee as settlement adviser, is known to be a professional who is not identified with a political movement. In his last job at the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, he was head of the infrastructure division, where he was responsible for planning committees, oversight and enforcement and the development of civilian infrastructure in the West Bank.

Roni Peli of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel called for the position of settlement adviser to the defense minister to be eliminated, dubbing it "the settlers' lobby at the Defense Ministry."

"Gantz," she said, "is trying to make the position apolitical, but the essence of the position is political."

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