Netanyahu Holds 'Tense' Talk With Ministers After Disputed Evacuation of Illegal Outpost

After Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ignored the demand by Bezalel Smotrich to halt the evacuation of an illegal outpost established overnight on privately held Palestinian land in the West Bank, PM Netanyahu summoned the two to a meeting, which sources described as 'tense'

Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich
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Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg, Sebastian Scheiner/AP
Yaniv Kubovich
Yaniv Kubovich

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich to an urgent meeting Tuesday evening, following last week's evacuation of the illegal West Bank outpost of Or Haim which caused a rift between the two cabinet ministers.

On Friday, Smotrich, who is both the finance minister and a minister in the defense ministry in charge of coordinating government operations in the West Bank, ordered to halt the evacuation of the illegal outpost that was established overnight by Israeli settlers on privately held Palestinian land – a demand which was ignored by Defense Minister Gallant.

Sources familiar with the matter described the meeting between Netanyahu, Gallant and Smotrich as 'tense', with the expectation being that Netanyahu would be able to find a way to please Smotrich without harming the position of the security establishment.

In recent days, the two ministers were presented with the results of an inquiry by the IDF on the transfer of Civil Administration powers from the hands of the Defense Ministry to Smotrich, as determined in the coalition agreements between Smotrich's Religious Zionism party and Netanyahu's Likud.

According to the IDF's position, a full transfer of power which would allow Smotrich to order the use of force and be involved in appointments would not be possible, since these are military matters.

The two ministers were reportedly unable to reach common ground in the meeting, as Smotrich rejected most of the clauses presented to him on the grounds that he was promised full responsibility of civil matters in the West Bank in the coalition deal.

A particular point of contention between the two revolved around incidents in which a Civil Administration matter may have security-related effects – for example the evacuation of an illegal outpost in the West Bank leading to an escalation of violence between Palestinians and Israelis. In the meeting, Gallant reportedly insisted that in such cases responsibility should immediately return to the defense minister and be taken out of Smotrich's hands.

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