Otzma Yehudit chairman MK Itamar Ben-Gvir on Wednesday warned the settlers of the Evyatar outpost in Samaria to watch out because “I fear Bennett will cheat you. He did not say his was a core promise.” As he explained on Reshet Bet radio, “I’m afraid that the government will eventually decide to evacuate the settlement of Evyatar and claim that ‘we promised not to evacuate, but we didn’t promise to abide by the arrangement.'”
It was his sarcastic way of reminding the good people of the outpost that the man they’re doing business with has grown a reputation for lying to his voters, as in his repeated vows not to serve under Yair Lapid in government, not to join the left in a coalition government, and certainly not to serve in a government that relies on the support of Arab parties. The inevitable conclusion, Ben-Gvir suggested, was that you can’t rely on Bennett’s promises.
Ben-Gvir then argued that Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria outposts should be treated by the Lapid-Bennett government at least as nicely as the Bedouin settlers in illegal outposts in the Negev, who are about to receive state recognition for at least four communities. He is right, of course, but while the comparison makes sense ideologically, it sidesteps the problems Prime Minister Bennett is facing in his attempt to prevent an ugly confrontation between the people of Evyatar and some 2,000 security troops.
To remind you, the solution that was agreed upon by the Evyatar settlers and the government earlier this week was rational. The settlers would move out by the coming weekend, and an IDF company would take over to protect the 50 or so homes against the neighboring Arab rioters. In six weeks, on the first of the month of Elul, a yeshiva or some other religious institute would be erected on the site, and some of the original settlers would return to teach and study there. At the same time, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories was instructed to run a survey of the local lands to verify there are no claims by PA Arabs on them, which would clear them to become state lands and usher in the legalization of the outpost.
So what’s Bennett’s sinister plot to cheat the Jews of Evyatar? It’s not so much a plot as his having to deal with the angry member of his coalition government Defense Minister Benny Gantz who believes he deserved to be the next PM because he made a deal with Bibi and now Bennett took it away from him and Benny is upset.
But not only Benny is upset. Bennett’s left-wing partners Meretz and Labor want him to fail in Evyatar. His Homeland Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev (Labor) on Wednesday morning congratulated Gantz for fighting the establishment of a yeshiva at the site because “an illegal outpost must be removed simply because it’s illegal.”
And the security apparatus and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories are also angry because Bennett et al cut some corners on the way to reaching their deal with the Evyatar settlers. First, keeping the settlement intact means the IDF would have to pay for securing it out of its budget. Second, the Civil Administration survey could take six months – so how can the government establish a yeshiva on the site in six weeks?
Of course it could. When the IDF wants to get something done they find the legal way of getting it done. The settlers could be teaching Torah to the IDF company that’s there to protect them for all anyone cares. When there’s a will there’s a yeshiva. But the security apparatus from Gantz down does not have the will.
This is what Ben-Gvir is cautioning the Evyatar people about, depicting Bennett’s possible failure to enforce his will over his defense minister as yet another Bennett lie. Of course, the end result would be the same, and in politics, you don’t get points for almost getting something done, so Ben-Gvir is essentially correct in warning the people of the outpost.
But Bennett is not alone in his determination to carry out the deal as intended and avoiding the estimated cost of about $3 million involved in the forced evacuation of more than 50 Jewish settlers and their hundreds of cousins, uncles, and well-wishers who would flock to the site to make things tougher on the IDF.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) earlier this week congratulated on the signing of the agreement with the residents of Evyatar, saying, “I thank Defense Minister Benny Gantz for his efforts to find a solution, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for his full enlistment, and Yossi Dagan, Rabbi Levanon, and Daniella Weiss who have shown exceptional leadership and tireless work for the Land of Israel.”
If there ever were a left vs. right issue for the Lapid-Bennett government to overcome, this is it, and MK Ben-Gvir is right to drum up resistance in the settlement movement against Bennett’s possible failure to deliver on his promises. The question is, of course, would Ben-Gvir come down to Evyatar on Rosh Chodesh Elul to cheer the establishment of whatever religious institution is erected there under IDF protection? We know Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich would show up – he moved his office there.