Photo Credit: Nachala Settlement Movement
Defense Ministry bulldozers delivered to Shiloh Valley, to uproot a Jewish settler’s vineyard, Feb. 15, 2023.

Israeli security forces on Wednesday morning evacuated a vineyard in Samaria’s Shiloh Valley belonging to Chen Ben Eliyahu’s Meshek Ahiya. The evacuation followed a 2021 High Court ruling that ordered the Civil Administration to destroy some 42 acres of vines. Jewish youths tied themselves to trees to protest the evacuation, and 40 of them were detained.


Adjunct Minister in the Defense Ministry Bezalel Smotrich sent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an irate letter headlined: “Urgent! The displacement of a vineyard in Binyamin due to delays in implementation of the agreement to transfer powers to the Civil Administration and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.”

The reason behind the security forces and the civil administration’s eagerness to inflict such flagrant destruction on Jewish property is that, as always, PM Netanyahu makes promises, but doesn’t promise to keep them. In this case, following the evacuation of the Or Haim outpost in Samaria by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant––in defiance of the coalition agreement between Likud and Religious Zionism––on January 25, Netanyahu decided that the authority over the Civil Administration would be transferred to Minister Bezalel Smotrich despite Gallant’s opposition.

With Netanyahu, as usual, promises are one thing, but keeping promises is an entirely different thing altogether.

“About a month ago, I instructed, as Minister in the Defense Ministry in charge of the Civil Administration and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, to cancel the disruptive use order that was scandalously issued against Chen Ben Eliyahu. To my astonishment, the defense minister grossly violated the coalition agreement and reversed my decision,” Smotrich complained angrily.

“Moreover, instead of implementing our settlement security policy, Minister Galant chose to continue the left-wing policy of former minister Benny Gantz and uprooted the vines even though the claims against the vineyard were proven to be false in the legal proceedings,” Smotrich continued.

Smotrich then declared: “I demand that you immediately freeze the uprooting of the vineyard and transfer the powers to me today as required by the coalition agreement – and above that, by common sense and our commitment to the millions of voters to whom we pledged to change the leftist policies of Benny Gantz in Judea and Samaria.”

He concluded menacingly: “This violation of our agreements will make it very difficult for the government and the coalition to conduct themselves properly.”

This was a direct threat to Netanyahu: keep your promise or we’re walking.

Why did Netanyahu decide, despite his clear decision in late January to transfer the Civil Administration to Smotrich, to renege on his promise and let Gallant bloody the settlers’ noses one more time? To show them who’s in charge. Netanyahu is suffering from a severe erosion of his authority these days. He is prevented by the Supreme Court from getting involved in implementing his justice minister’s judicial reform, which takes center stage in Israel’s politics and the coverage of Israel’s politics. Netanyahu feels ousted. So, by letting Gallant inflict some damage on the folks who tie his hands with the most effective right-wing agenda ever, Bibi gets to throw his weight around and remind Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir (and Levin, so he doesn’t get any ideas) – he is the king.

This is going to happen a lot for the duration of this government, and, as usual, the only option for Smotrich is to declare a coalition crisis and order his MKs and ministers to stay out of cabinet meetings and Knesset votes. Bibi understands only threats, in this case, the threat that if he loses his government, he’ll go to jail.

Hit him where it hurts!

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