Photo Credit: Flash90
Young Jewish women working the land in Evyatar, June 28, 2021.

On Monday, I was delighted to inform our readers that a compromise had been reached regarding the Evyatar outpost in Samaria, which had the blessings of the residents (Compromise Reached on Evyatar: Residents Leave, New Hesder Yeshiva Established).

According to the approved outline, Evyatar’s residents will leave the place by the end of the week, all the homes will remain intact, and the defense ministry will establish a base for an IDF company on the grounds immediately. Then, on Rosh Chodesh Elul, in about six weeks, a new Hesder yeshiva will be established on the site, which will employ some of the residents and provide housing to the students. Concurrently, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories was instructed to complete a land survey of the area within six months, and the land that would be cleared by the survey would be declared state land, on which a settlement will be established in coordination with the prime minister, the defense minister, the head of the Samaria regional council, and the Nahala movement.


But then, on Tuesday, Religious Zionism chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich issued a comment “on the government walking back the agreements regarding the settlement of Evyatar.”

Mind you, MK Smotrich is probably the closest politician to Evyatar other than Shas chairman Aryeh Deri who adopted the outpost and its people. A week ago, Smotrich moved his office to the outpost, so I tend to attribute to his pronouncement the serious response it deserves.

Smotrich said, “Yesterday, following the consent of the settlers, I wrote that the ball was in the government’s court. I wrote this simply because I know the dynamics involved. So now, despite the earlier announcements, the government is reneging and refusing to permit continuous civilian presence in the settlement. I support the residents of the settlement and their tens of thousands of supporters and call on them not to agree to any erosion in the understandings.”

Smotrich added: “There’s a limit to hypocrisy. As long as Khan al-Ahmar and tens of thousands of other illegal Arab structures remain standing, there is no reason in the world for Evyatar to be evacuated. The settlers showed responsibility and agreed to a compromise that discriminated against them – to avoid a confrontation. The government must stand behind the agreements and if it withdraws them it would bear full responsibility for the results.”

Naftali Bennett and Bezalel Smotrich, November 13, 2017. / Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Immediately following Smotrich’s announcement, Channel 12 News quoted Evyatar residents who claimed they “are not aware of a change in the state’s position regarding the agreement.” And anonymous sources in the government were livid, telling Channel 12, “Smotrich’s statement is false. He is trying to harm the settlement and blow up the agreement because of petty politics. The state is behind the agreement and the settlement is progressing at a good pace. Let him step aside and let us work.”

Can you recognize desperation between those lines? I certainly do. The fact is that the defense apparatus is unhappy with the idea of maintaining a civilian presence in Evyatar after a yeshiva is established there in six weeks because this would compel the IDF to provide protection against the local Arab villagers who over the past month have attacked the Jewish residents violently, rolled burning tires into their settlement, and shot fireworks at their windows. The IDF, whose permanent assignment is to defend Israelis, doesn’t want this job and would rather spend the projected $3 million it would cost to evict the 50 residents than bother with providing their security.

This is one of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s do-or-die moments, of which he is likely to face many over the next two years. His defense minister, Benny Gantz, is an angry and bitter man who is determined to sabotage Bennett’s stint at the helm because he, Gantz, feels this honor should have gone to him.

But there are other elements involved, such as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, whose officials are reluctant to clear Evyatar for settling in six months, following their survey, because doing that would start a slippery slope that could seriously improve Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria. Givat Assaf, which started in 2001 as a shiva tent in memory of Assaf Hershkowitz who had been murdered near Ofra – was turned into an outpost and even though it never received the government’s approval, remained on the land to this day.

According to Peace Now, there are currently 135 outposts, compared to 132 regulated settlements. Demolition orders are pending against many of the outposts, but the Netanyahu government preferred not to enforce them. When the state faces petitions at the High Court of Justice asking to compel it to demolish the outposts, it usually responds that it intends to regulate their status in the future. So far only 21 such outposts have been granted legal status. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, which sees its role as facilitating the establishment of a Palestinian State in Judea and Samaria, is fearful that the surveys it is now forced to conduct would reveal that there are no legitimate Arab claims on the lands around the outposts, making them eligible for legalization.

Will PM Bennett succeed in arm wrestling Gantz, proving once and for all that a government under his command will not evict Jews? No one would be happier than MK Bezalel Smotrich should that be the outcome, despite the two men’s political fight. Forget Smotrich, the most prominent woman in the settlement enterprise, Daniela Weiss, said on Monday: “A government that has been maligned so much has found the noble and uplifting way to converse with us, not with arm wrestling but out of appreciation for the pioneers who are building the land.”

Much like Smotrich, Weiss, one of the founders of the settlements movement, was not born yesterday and is not given to gushing, Pollyanna-like compliment for naught. Weiss, like Smotrich, wants Bennett to remember his roots as CEO of Yesha Council, representing all the settlements. Weiss is using praise, Smotrich threats, but they both are guiding Israel’s first yarmulke-clad prime minister on the right path.

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