Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu green lighted on Wednesday the construction of 300 housing units in Beit El, mere hours after destruction began of the Draynoff buildings that have been at the center of a dispute between settlers and the Israeli government and High Court of Justice.
Hundreds of settlers gathered on Monday night outside the two buildings, which the High Court of Justice ruled were illegally built on private Palestinian land, and remained there throughout Tuesday and into Wednesday morning. The protesters, egged on by settler leaders and right-wing politicians, clashed with Border Police and Police forces sent to scene to prevent them from entering the two buildings.
The two buildings were demolished on Wednesday following a ruling by the High Court of Justice. This demolition cost the State of Israel some NIS 1 million, taken out of the defense budget.
The housing units that were approved on Wednesday were promised by the Israeli government three years ago following the evacuation of the Givat Ulpana neighborhood in the settlement. In June 2012, settler leaders agreed to evacuate five buildings in the neighborhood - also built on private Palestinian land - in exchange for 300 new housing units to be built in another part of the settlement. Since then, the construction of these housing units has been stuck, awaiting the approval of the political echelons.
The prime minister also approved hundreds of housing units in Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the Green Line, including the construction and marketing of 91 housing units and the planning of 24 homes in Pisgat Ze'ev, as well as the planning of 300 housing units in Ramot, 70 in Gilo and 19 in Har Homa. The 91 homes in Pisgat Ze'ev are also part of a past decision that was awaiting a green light from the political echelons.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) called the decision "a worthy, right, Zionist response," asserting that "the High Court's job is to judge, the government's job is to build."
Earlier, ministers from the hard-line Bayit Yehudi party protested the destruction of the Draynoff buildings, with Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel saying, "I turned to the prime minister and firmly demanded that he immediately approve the construction of the 300 housing units that were being delayed. I informed the prime minister I expected to receive a positive answer within an hour."
Bennett himself has also demanded Netanyahu follow through on his promise to build the 300 housing units in Beit El.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, also of Bayit Yehudi, said following the court's decision to demolish the homes that "We are living under the rule of law, and we must accept the ruling of the High Court and with that harsh verdict. The homes in Beit El will be destroyed, and immediately rebuilt after. This is the Jewish way. We don't lose hope."
The Palestinian Authority condemned the decision to build the 300 homes in Beit El. A spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said that Israel's settlement policy is "destructive to all the efforts being put forward since September by the United States and the European Union in an attempt to find an way out of the current crisis."
Abu Rudeineh called on the international community to immediately intervene in order to stop "this dangerous Israeli policy that would result in a further deterioration of the situation, which conveys an Israeli message to the international community that Israel is not interested in peace or any efforts aimed at creating the appropriate environment conducive to peace."
Mark Toner, deputy spokesperson of the US Department of State, also criticized the move. "We are deeply concerned about the Israeli government’s announcement today of the advancement of nearly 300 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, as well as hundreds of new housing units in East Jerusalem," Toner said in a statement.
"The United States continues to view settlements as illegitimate and we strongly oppose steps to advance construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Settlement expansion threatens the two-state solution and calls into question Israel’s commitment to a negotiated resolution to the conflict. We continue to urge the Israeli government to refrain from unhelpful actions that undercut the possibility of a two-state solution."
The European Union also condemned the decision and urged Israel to reverse the decision, saying "the recent decisions of the Israeli authorities to further advance settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem call into question the Israeli government's stated commitment to a negotiated two-state solution in the Middle East Peace Process."
"The EU expects the Israeli government to demonstrate its commitment to the two-state solution not only in words, but also through its actions," a statement went on to say.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the announcement of the construction of the new units, "as well as the planning and construction of nearly 500 housing units in a number of settlements in East Jerusalem," his spokesman's office said. Ban urged Israel's government to halt and reverse such decisions "in the interest of peace and a just final status agreement."
Netanyahu's decision to give the go-ahead for the 300 new units in Beit El followed a tensed day in the settlement.
More violence erupted in wake of the court's decision as tractors arrived in Beit El to tear down the Draynoff buildings. Rioters lit fires, pelted security forces with stones and hurled tables and chairs at the Border Police troops who were standing between them and the buildings.
Police used crowd dispersal measures, including water cannons. At least ten of the rioters were arrested, and at least six were lightly hurt.
Clashes between Border Police and the settlers stopped during the afternoon hours on Wednesday, but resumed around 7:30pm when one of the rioters threw an object at a Border Policeman. He was held for questioning, which caused uproar among the rioters. This led to the detainment of another settler after he attacked one of the soldiers.
The settlers remained in Beit El into the evening hours, lifting signs saying "With God's help, we'll always win in the end."
Clashes also broke out in the nearby Palestinian village of Jalazone, when several Palestinians set tires on fire at the entrance to the village and fired fireworks. Border Police forces cleared them with crowd dispersal measures.
Sa-Nur families raise their own proposal
Not far from the rioting in Beit El, settler families who have been squatting in the ruins of the settlement of Sa-Nur, which was evacuated as part of the disengagement in 2005, agreed on Wednesday afternoon to willingly evacuate on the condition a state-appointed inquiry commission examines the possibility of re-establishing the settlement.
The squatters in Sa-Nur, who entered the evacuated settlement on Monday night, ignored an ultimatum set for them on Tuesday to leave the area by 2pm.
In an effort to avoid a repeat of the forced evacuation of 2005, the settlers decided to send a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu, in which they pleaded with him: "Please spare us, our children, and the entire people of Israel, the unnecessary sights of destruction and eviction."
The settlers were also concerned with the fact security forces closed off all access to the area, raising the fear they would have to stay in the settlement for days without food or water in the rising summer temperatures.
"A decade ago we were banished from Sa-Nur and the settlements of the northern Samaria, and with God's will we returned home two days ago," the settlers wrote. "Our stay here over the past two days proves that it is possible (to return)."
They demanded the prime minister form an impartial commission which will examine the security and legal aspects of re-populating the evacuated settlements in the northern Samaria. "We are certain that any objective commission will determine that there was no reason that after a decade we cannot return home," they wrote.