U.S. Pressure Behind Israeli Delay in Evacuating Bedouin Village, Defense Official Says

Washington wants to avoid Khan al-Ahmar evacuation until it presents its peace proposal, so as not to raise tensions with Palestinian leadership, official argues

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
Israel Border Police confront protesters and activists blocking an IDF bulldozer operating in Khan al-Ahmar, June 9, 2019.
Israel Border Police confront protesters and activists blocking an IDF bulldozer operating in Khan al-Ahmar, June 9, 2019.Credit: Nasser Nasser / AP
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

The Israeli government is postponing the evacuation of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank until at least December at the Trump administration's request, a senior defense official told Haaretz on Monday.

The Americans want to delay the evacuation of the unauthorized village until the “Deal of the Century” peace plan is presented and to avoid any additional tension, or humiliation, with the Palestinian Authority, the official added. The State Prosecutor’s Office, which informed the High Court of Justice of the delay during Sunday's hearing on a petition to carry out the evacuation, said the delay was necessary because of both the previous and upcoming elections.

In response to the petition, which filed by the right-wing Regavim nonprofit, the state asked the court to give it until December 16 to respond, since the new government that will be formed after the September elections will need time to consider its position. It added that the current transition government supports this request.

>> The eviction of Khan al-Ahmar stinks up to high heaven | Opinion

Three days before the previous election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised in a televised interview that "the evacuation will happen very soon, at the soonest possible time." As of now, the defense establishment has not been asked to hurry the evacuation, nor has it been asked to prepare for it in any form.

The topic of evacuating Khan al-Ahmar was not discussed in defense forums in recent months, and the defense establishment has not been asked about it by the political leadership during that period, a defense official involved in the matter told Haaretz. No practical discussion on the evacuation has been held with leading politicians, including the prime minister.

Other officials who attended some of the closed meetings to assess the diplomatic implications of the evacuation told Haaretz that they were under the impression that Netanyahu is not interested in carrying out the evacuation, at least not for now.

The prime minister wants to postpone it out of fear that it will become a rallying point and lead to Palestinian riots at a time when the United States wants to ease tensions before the release of its peace plan, the officials said. And the evacuation of the village, which the United States and European Union oppose, will garner harsh criticism that Netanyahu would rather avoid.

A representative from Khan al-Ahmar, Eid Abu Khamis, was invited in April by American—Jewish left—wing NGO J Street for a three-week visit to the United States. As part of the visit, Abu Khamis participated in a number of the group’s conferences and met with members of Congress, who promised to act to prevent the evacuation – at least until the peace plan is released.

Abu Khamis also met with representatives of the Jewish community in the United States, and was told they had tried to influence decision makers in Israel to prevent the evacuation in the near future. They offered to mediate a deal in which the residents would receive significant compensation if they agree to leave their homes.

Abu Khamis is now visiting Tunis, and is expected to travel to the United States again soon for another round of meetings. “I was invited to the United States again to meet with officials in Congress,” he told Haaretz. He added that based on his talks, he expects “something good to happen.”

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