PM's Office Officials: Settlers Could Return to Hebron Houses Once Paperwork in Order

Netanyahu supports settlements, appreciates settlers who 'stand bravely' against terrorism, officials say, following right-wing backlash over eviction of settlers who moved into Hebron houses illegally.

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Settlers, soldiers and border police officers at one of the homes in Hebron on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016.
Settlers, soldiers and border police officers at one of the homes in Hebron on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016.Credit: Haverim Leshah Tzarah

Officials at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Office said Friday evening that the Israeli settlers evicted from two houses in Hebron earlier in the day would be allowed to return once they receive the proper permits.

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports the settlements and appreciates the settlers, who stand bravely and with determination every day against terrorism," the official said.

"We're all committed to honoring the law, and in this case not all the permits were issued yet. Once that happens, the settlers could return to the homes, as in previous cases. The prime minister backs the defense minister and the security forces, and calls for calm."

A few dozen of the Hebron settlement's residents broke into the two homes between the Cave of the Patriarchs and the neighborhood of Avraham Avinu on Thursday and announced that they had bought the buildings, which would in effect expand the settlement in the city. They called the homes "Beit Rachel" and "Beit Leah," after the biblical wives of Jacob.

The settlers' move came as a surprise to authorities who were not informed or coordinated with in advance. They were not granted a permit of transaction, required under military orders in the Occupied Territories for carrying out real-estate deals.

Israeli security forces evicted the settlers the next day. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Friday that the "intruders" were evicted because they "trampled the law," having failed to take several legal measures required to move into the houses.

The eviction was severely criticized by right-wing politicians, including from Netanyahu and Ya'alon's party, the Likud. Immigrant Absorption and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin called on Ya'alon to halt the eviction of settlers from homes "they legally purchased." Several rightist lawmakers may even excuse themselves from the Knesset plenary session on Monday in protest, leading the coalition to lose several votes. Two lawmakers, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) and MK Oren Hazan (Likud) have already made announcements to that effect.

Given the one seat majority enjoyed by the ruling coalition in the Knesset, bills promoted by coalition lawmakers may lose on Monday, while opposition bills could possibly pass, including no-confidence votes. However, this would spell only a symbolic victory for the opposition, and will have little effect on the government.

It is believed that despite the lawmakers' announced intentions of avoiding the plenum on Monday, the coalition would still be able to raise enough votes to pass the so-called "NGO transparency bill." The bill, which requires NGOs that receive over half their funding from abroad to reveal their funding governments, is unanimously supported by Habayit Hayehudi and Likud, and it is unlikely that the parties' lawmakers would let it be rejected on Monday.

The coalition received what is perhaps surprising support from an opposition lawmaker, Zionist Union MK Eitan Broshi, who urged his faction not to let the coalition lose the votes next week. "The Zionist Union must provide the government with a safety net against the lunatic right as long as the government acts in favor of security and the diplomatic process," Broshi said Friday.

The coalition, which relies on 61 lawmakers against the opposition's 59, is especially precarious. Last December, the opposition Yesh Atid party managed to pass a bill after three Likud lawmakers were absent from the Knesset plenum. Two weeks ago, the Knesset passed a no-confidence vote for the first time, with 54 MKs for and 53 against. However, since the law requires at least 61 MKs to support a no-confidence vote for the government to disband, it was merely a symbolic victory for the opposition.

This article was amended on January 24 to reflect the fact that the NGO Bill requires organizations that receive over half their funding from foreign government to reveal their funding.

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