Netanyahu Tells Ministers to Stop Attacking Army Over Approval of Arab Construction in West Bank

Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman say commanders are following orders from political leaders and are not setting policy

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a Likud party meeting, June 19, 2017.
Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told fellow ministers Monday to stop attacking Israeli army officers over the decision to expand the Palestinian city of Qalqilyah in the West Bank, noting that army brass does not set policy.

Speaking at the start of a Likud party meeting, Netanyahu said the Israel Defense Forces officers “carry out policy, they don’t set it.” Lieberman echoed the same sentiment in a separate statement.

“In recent weeks and days, we have seen repeated personal attacks by ministers and Knesset members against army commanders, including the chief of staff and the coordinator of government activities in the territories,” Lieberman said, referring to Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, respectively.

“The ministers and Knesset members are exploiting the fact that the men in uniform can not respond,” he continued. “They are allowing themselves to incite against army commanders for narrow political reasons.”

These ministers and lawmakers are showing that they have no sense of national responsibility, Lieberman added.

The army commanders are fulfilling orders they receive from political leaders, the defense minister emphasized.

Last Friday, Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin, who also serves on the security cabinet, accused Mordechai of “scandalously leading the government by the nose” to approve the expansion of Qalqilyah with 14,000 new housing units.

During the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu claimed not to remember the decision.

The expansion of the city is part of a broader plan put together by Mordechai, involving several master plans and construction permits in Area C of the West Bank (where Israel has full civil and security control). The plan will see a number of West Bank villages receive public buildings and new housing units; an “economic corridor” will be established between Jericho and Jordan; a western industrial zone will be built in Nablus; a hospital will be constructed in Beit Sahur, near Bethlehem; and various Palestinian villages will get schools and soccer fields.

Despite the fact that this is a relatively small number of projects, Israel has not embarked on this kind of expansion in Arab towns for many years. The security cabinet decision was kept secret and not publicized, in part to avoid political pressure from the settlers’ lobby.