Alternative Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Sunday evening sent a letter to Government Secretary Shalom Shlomo requesting further postponement of the evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar. Copies of this letter were sent to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, and the directors of the relevant ministries, and all other relevant parties.
Khan al-Ahmar (sometimes referred to as the “Khan al-Ahmar school community”) is an illegal outpost that was set up in Area C—under complete Israeli control according to the Oslo agreements—between the thriving Jewish settlements of Ma’ale Adumim and Kfar Adumim and the Israeli capital, Jerusalem. Because of its location, smack in the middle of the peanut-shaped “west bank,” much like owning the center square in the game of tic-tac-toe, whoever controls Khan al-Ahmar owns the future of either a contiguous Palestinian state or the Jewish urban sprawl that will connect Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem and sever any future Palestinian state.
In his letter, Lapid accepted responsibility for the request for a delay because the right-wing parties in the new government—Yamina and New Hope—spent much of their election campaign sharply attacking former PM Benjamin Netanyahu for refraining from evacuating the illegal outpost. Addressing the AG, Lapid explained the request for a delay by stating that “in view of the fact that the government has just been established and has not yet had time to examine the issue in-depth and independent of the conclusions of the previous government, and considering that this is a particularly sensitive issue.”
On May 24, 2018, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that, as of June 2018, the IDF is permitted to move Khan al-Ahmar’s residents—several Bedouin families who had been moved there by the Palestinian Authority—to an alternative location. Justice Noam Sohlberg wrote that the grounds for rejecting the residents’ petition to stay was that they had unlawfully built their school and shantytown and that the court was not allowed to meddle in the execution of Israeli laws. On August 1, 2018, the court heard a new petition and asked the parties to try and settle, asking the state to submit its detailed proposal for an alternative site for the Bedouin. On August 7, 2018, the state insisted on carrying out the eviction and declared that it had plans for a new site location southwest of Jericho. On September 5, 2018, the court dismissed the Bedouin’s new petitions.
Since then, Israel has been under tremendous pressure from foreign elements, including the EU and several Western countries, not to evacuate the illegal outpost, regardless of the court’s permission. Netanyahu promised each election campaign to remove the squatters and broke his promise shortly after election night (there have been four so far in the last two years). Today, an attempt on the part of the Lapid-Bennett government to carry out the evacuation of those Bedouin would lead almost certainly to the fall of the government, since the Ra’am coalition partner would most certainly drop out, seeing as it gets much of its support from the Negev Bedouin.
Lapid clarified that he seeks to postpone the evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar in order to “examine the conditions necessary for the evacuation of the outpost and to conduct a significant and in-depth examination of all the legal and international consequences of the move.”
In doing so, the Lapid-Bennett government has decided to continue Netanyahu’s policy to repeatedly postpone a decision on the issue ever since the 2018 High Court ruling.
The Regavim movement, which is one of the few groups in Israel who keep up the legal pressure to block Arab expansion on either side of the Green Line, on Sunday issued a harsh response to the Lapid move (It should be noted that Religious Zionism leader MK Bezalel Smotrich was one of the founders of Regavim and today leads a fierce opposition resistance against the government.):
Bennett, it’s time to get it together and show who is in charge of the government. Evacuate Khan al-Ahmar today.
You said change government, didn’t you?
In all their recent campaigns, Yamina and Prime Minister Bennett have argued that Netanyahu should be replaced to carry out the fight against the Palestinian takeover of Area C, halt the loss of Negev land to the Bedouin community, restore governance and security to the Galilee, Negev and the mixed cities, and also to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar.
The fact that Alternative Prime Minister Yair Lapid is bothering to issue a statement to the media in the middle of Tisha B’Av about the request to postpone the evacuation, even though the prosecutor’s office had sent its response to the High Court last week, shows that Lapid is trying to make a political spin here at Bennett’s expense and that Bennett’s coalition partners have no intention to let him keep any of his election promises. Not in the Negev, not in the Galilee, and not in Khan al-Ahmar.
Sadly, in the current political reality, it’s more likely that the Lapid-Bennett government would continue to kick this can further and further down the road, much the way Netanyahu did it. Only a unified, right-wing coalition government could do it, but these days, even though a vast majority of Israeli voters voted right, such a coalition is not possible. Fill in the blank as you see fit with the culprit.