Analysis |

Bennett-Lapid Government's First Challenge May Be Awaiting at a West Bank Outpost

Dealing with this controversial issue, how will the ex-director general of the Yesha Council of settlements and would-be prime minister, Naftali Bennett, behave in the face of what remains of his political base?

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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The Eviatar outpost in the West Bank.
The Eviatar outpost in the West Bank.
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

Perched in the heart of the West Bank, a few minutes’ drive from Tapuah Junction, is the first possible obstacle that will face a Bennett-Lapid government, if and when it takes office. A few weeks ago, a new settler outpost called Eviatar was built there, mostly on privately-owned Palestinian land. It was established in response to the shooting attack at the junction at the beginning of May, in which a yeshiva student, Yehuda Guetta, was murdered.

Usually, when settlers establish a protest outpost at the site of a terrorist attack, it consists of a few tents or lean-tos. This time it’s a very different project. Within hours, about 30 white structures were erected, prefab style, which were populated by dozens of families. From the settlers’ perspective, this is a new settlement in every respect. Around 200 people are living there.

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Israel's Civil Administration declared the action a “fresh invasion,” which allows them to evacuate the site, without resorting to complex legal proceedings, within 90 days of the invasion. But so far the state has done nothing. The establishment of the outpost is already generating furious Palestinian opposition. Last Friday a Palestinian was shot and killed by the IDF at the site. A “day of rage” was declared for Friday in the territories to mark the Naksa, referring to the results of the Six-Day War, which erupted 54 years ago.

In the negotiations to form the government of change, there was much talk about the need for a freeze on dealing with controversial issues, notably a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. The violent events in the past month showed how groundless that idea is – and how there is no chance of implementing it without Palestinian consent. The Eviatar outpost is another example. From a legal perspective, the site must be evacuated. Even the Netanyahu government prevented the creation of new outposts in recent years. But how will the former director general of the Yesha Council of settlements – who is the prime minister-designate – behave in the face of what remains of his political base?

In the course of two weeks, mostly concurrent with the fighting in Gaza, there were no fewer than 26 shooting attacks against the IDF and Israeli civilians in the West Bank. Nineteen soldiers and Israeli civilians were wounded, while 24 Palestinians were killed, some of them armed terrorists and others demonstrators who were shot in confrontations and violent demonstrations. During the escalation the Palestinian Authority took a few steps back, avoided arresting Hamas militants and did not confront participants in violent marches. The security coordination in the West Bank between the IDF and PA was fully restored immediately after the cease-fire with Gaza came into effect.

The sensitivity and fragility of the situation is exemplified by an incident this week, which remained unknown to the public. Two Israeli teenage girls, who ran away from a boarding school for youth in distress in a settlement, met a Palestinian criminal who lives near Jerusalem. He hosted the girls in his home and drove them in his car between Bethlehem and Jericho. In his social media accounts he published photos of himself holding and shooting firearms. When he posted a clip showing the two Jewish girls in his company, his friends urged him to rape and murder them.

The girls were extricated midweek in a joint operation by the IDF, the Shin Bet and the police. Even if they are sent back to the boarding school, there is no way to ascertain that they won’t escape into the West Bank again. At any given moment there are dozens of Jews in cities of Palestinian-controlled Area A of the West Bank for various purposes, almost all of them illegal. And on any given day one of those events could morph from an innocent encounter into a new Gilad Shalit episode. That, too, is part of the security reality that the new government, if it’s established, will face.

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