Settler leaders fighting for Netanyahu despite freeze on housing plans
A number of settler leaders are actively fighting on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu despite the freeze in the advancement of housing plans in West Bank settlements and other project that he has supported.
Among those who have taken the lead are regional council heads such as Yochai Damri from the South Hebron Hills, Israel Ganz from Binyamin and Shlomo Ne’eman of Gush Etzion. Last year when it seemed that former US president Donald Trump’s peace plan might move forward they campaigned against Netanyahu.
Now that it appears he will be replaced by a rotating coalition headed first by Naftali Bennett of Yamina and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, these same settler leaders have risen to Netanyahu’s defense.
They have done so, even though Netanyahu had not advanced plans for new settler homes since US President Joe Biden took office in January. The last meeting of the Higher Planning Committee for Judea and Samaria took place just before his inauguration.
No new meeting date has been set and settlers have reported that no such date will be set in the near future according to statements told to them by Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
On Thursday, Gantz symbolically placed his office in front of the home of Yamina MK and former justice minister Ayelet Shaked.
Damri plans to symbolically set up his own office on Tuesday outside the home of Yamina MK Nir Orbach in Petah Tikva to protest his continued support of Yamina’s decision to join the anti-Netanyahu coalition rather than helping Netanyahu form a right-wing government.
“I hope that Nir will do the right thing and that he won’t support a government that includes those [Ra’am] that support terror,” Damri said.
A strong nationalistic right-wing government is needed to protect Zionist and Jewish values as well as the settlement movement, he said. “Nir,” he added, “this is all in your hands.”
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Damri blamed Gantz for the freeze and for the fact that Netanyahu did not advance the authorization of West Bank outposts. During Netanyahu’s 12-years in power, Damri said, Netanyahu had been a strong supporter of the settlements and would be able to do so if he were to remain in office.
As long as there is a left-wing minority in a Bennett-Lapid led government, of course as a member of the Israeli Right, “I would prefer a right-wing government,” he said.
Damri was particularly concerned, he said, that a Bennett-Lapid government would cave to the US, noting that Gantz which would be part of that government already had a history of doing so.
Netanyahu, in contrast, stood strong against the US on Iran, Damri said, recalling that the Prime Minister had addressed the US Congress in 2015 to warn against the Iran deal even though then-president Barack Obama was one of its chief sponsors. Lapid at the time warned against the trip, Damri pointed out.
Ne’eman has also blamed the freeze on the advancement of settler housing plans on the defense minister and has warned that he is already operating as if he is part of the Bennett-Lapid government. Gantz, Ne’eman charged, has already worked out an agreement with the Biden administration for such a freeze.
“Over the past several weeks the authorities in Judea and Samaria along with the Yesha Council made a humble appeal to Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Gantz to hold a ‘small’ committee meeting, not for major planning but in order to deal with small changes to existing master plans. However our request was completely rejected by Benny Gantz,” Ne’eman said last week.
“[This is] the same Benny Gantz who frequently accuses Netanyahu of deceitful politics is pursuing an independent policy without the prime minister’s knowledge. It turns out that Gantz agreed to a construction freeze with the Biden Administration, even though the new government hasn’t even been formed,” he added.
Bennett has rejected any charges that he would support a freeze but has also not provided details with regard to a meeting of the Higher Planning Council.
Yesha Council head David Elhayani who is also the Jordan Valley Regional Council head broke with Netanyahu over a year ago and during the elections left the Likud Party and joined Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party which is also part of the anti-Netanyahu coalition.
He has not wavered from that support nor does he believe that such a government would freeze settlement plans.
Some settler leaders were loath to weigh-in publicly on the leadership battle between Netanyahu and the Bennett-Lapid coalition. Both Bennett and Sa’ar have a strong record as right-wing leaders, but they would agree to be part of a coalition with the Arab Islamist party as well as with the left-wing Meretz and Labor parties. Settler leaders are concerned that these parties will set the agenda when it comes to the West Bank.
Efrat Council head Oded Revivi has not joined the political battle between Netanyahu and the Bennett-Lapid coalition, although he is known as a strong Netanyahu supporter.
In a conversation with the Post, however, he explained that he believed that issues relating to Judea and Samaria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be at a standstill under a Bennett-Lapid government.
“A major challenge for this government is the fact that it is composed of many small parties, each one will have a veto power over any decision that is going to be made,” he said. “In many facets it will be a standstill government” and that is particularly true with respect to the settlements, Revivi added.
“It’s hard to see how parties like Meretz and Labor would agree” to building initiatives in Judea and Samaria, he said. But at the same time, the inclusion of Bennett and Sa’ar in the government would likely prevent any settlement demotions, he said.
Revivi said that when he evaluated the potential success of a Bennett-Lapid government he looked at it through a much wider lens than Judea and Samaria. One has to ask, “is it going to be a stable government, is it going to be able to make decisions?” Revivi asked.
The fact that the Bennett-Lapid coalition is composed of many small parties creates a challenge and it could be “very difficult” for the government to function, he said.
“I hope for the best,” he said. “I hope for all of us that if they do get to form the government that they will do active and positive things,” Revivi said.