Israeli Security Forces Evacuate Settlers From Hebron House

IDF says that the evacuation of the settlers, who resided in the house for more than two weeks, was completed 'without any unusual events'; officials in PM's office say Netanyahu 'had no choice' but to approve the evacuation.

Israeli security forces on Wednesday evacuated Israeli settlers from a house in a Palestinian neighborhood in Hebron, in a surprise move that ended an affair that sparked controversy across Israel and caused a rift in the government.

The IDF said that the evacuation of the settlers, who resided in the house for more than two weeks, was completed "without any unusual events."

Israel Police surround the Hebron house - AP - April 4, 2012

Senior officials in the prime minister's office said that the evacuation was carried out after careful coordination between the defense minister and the prime minister. Nevertheless, Netanyahu's aides went on the defensive against right-wing criticism and said that the prime minister had no choice but to approve the evacuation out of security and legal consideration.

According to officials in Netanyahu's office, during the late night discussion on Tuesday no decisions were made regarding the immediate evacuation of the house.

However, on Wednesday morning, before the cabinet meeting, Barak met with Netanyahu and told him that he must evacuate the settlers that day, an official said.

Barak said in response he will continue to safeguard law and order by "ensuring the authority of the government over its citizens."

“Attempts to clear up the request permitting the deal and the legality of the purchase will continue in a professional manner, without any delays," Barak said. "A situation in which illegal actions are being taken in order to influence government policy by creating facts on the ground cannot be allowed.”

Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud), a supporter of the settlers, said in an interview with Israel Radio that he “hopes that the prime minister did not know of the intent to evacuate."

"I heard the prime minister, I spoke with the prime minister, and these actions have crossed the line," Edelstein said.

According to Edelstein, the evacuation of the settlers should have been coordinated, and not have come as a surprise carried out by a special police unit.

"Anything is preferable to the kind of surprise we’re experiencing right now," he added. "I am calling on the prime minister to put a stop to this once and for all.”

Earlier on Wednesday, defense officials said that Defense Minister Ehud Barak and a ministerial committee agreed that the house will be evacuated by April 26.

Disagreements whether to evacuate the settlers caused a fiery debate inside the government.

Ya’alon, who participated in the special ministerial meeting on Tuesday night, criticized Barak's decision and said that authority over issues regarding Judea and Samaria settlements must be taken away from Barak, and given to a committee of ministers. “Barak is not solving any problems or signing any urban building plans.”

“Ehud Barak is acting against the government and against the settlements in Judea and Samaria, all that he is doing is fanning the flames,” Ya'alon said Wednesday during a closed discussion.

"It is imperative to check that the settler’s documents of sale are not counterfeit. If it turns out that they are in order, the purchase must be approved and the settlers allowed entry. This is not a national, or a defense issues, the property rights need to be checked. Why does the defense minister claim that such a check will take weeks when it can be done in a few days?”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak fired back at Ya'alon on Wednesday, claiming that the deputy prime minister is making comments against him out of political considerations.

“Unfortunately, Minister Ya’alon is combining cheap political concerns with defense decisions, harming the government’s ability to protect democracy and law and order," officials close to Barak said.

A senior defense official with knowledge of the details of the meeting explained that a decision was reached to evacuate the house if in fact it has been occupied illegally, considering the fact that settlers entered the house without the proper permits from the Civil Administration.