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Smotrich slams Gallant over razing of Jewish-owned property in Samaria

The move was carried out on the authority of Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant despite orders from Minister in the Defense Ministry Bezalel Smotrich to freeze the demolition.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks to reporters at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Jan. 11, 2023. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaks to reporters at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Jan. 11, 2023. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.

The Israeli Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration ordered the razing on Wednesday of a Jewish-owned olive grove and orchard in Samaria, in defiance of instructions by Minister in the Defense Ministry Bezalel Smotrich.

Security forces reportedly arrested dozens of protesters who were attempting to prevent the destruction of the property.

The move was carried out on the authority of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant despite orders from Smotrich, who also serves as finance minister, to freeze the demolition.

It comes after Gallant last month overruled Smotrich’s call to halt the razing of Or Chaim, an outpost commemorating Rabbi Haim Druckman, the spiritual leader of the religious Zionism movement, who died on Dec. 25. That decision caused friction between Gallant and Smotrich, who in response had his Religious Zionism Party boycott the following Cabinet meeting.

At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to back Gallant’s position, releasing a statement saying, “the government supports settlement but only when it is done legally and is coordinated in advance with the prime minister and security officials, which was not done in this case.”

Netanyahu has tasked Smotrich with overseeing the Civil Administration, the Defense Ministry body responsible for approving construction and handling other bureaucratic matters in Area C of Judea and Samaria.

Smotrich reportedly sent a letter to Netanyahu on Wednesday warning him that further delays in transferring to him full authority over the Civil Administration, in accordance with the RZP’s coalition agreement, could threaten the stability of the government.

“About a month ago, as Minister in the Defense Ministry appointed to oversee the Civil Administration, I instructed that the order against Hen Ben-Eliyahu’s [olive grove and orchard] be nullified immediately,” wrote Smotrich, according to reports. “But much to my surprise, the defense minister brazenly violated the coalition agreement and overruled my decision. Minister Gallant has decided to continue the left-wing policies of former minister Benny Gantz … even though the claims against this orchard were proven in court hearings to be false,” he added.

Smotrich subsequently wrote on Twitter: “Minister Gallant’s denial of the unequivocal coalition agreement and the prime minister’s dragging his feet on the matter are unacceptable and will not be allowed to continue. This is a clause that was clearly central to our agreement and the basis for the existence of a coalition is the existence of coalition agreements.

“I demand that the prime minister transfer the powers to me immediately,” continued Smotrich. “If Gallant has a problem with this, he is welcome to hand in the keys. I am convinced there are many in the Likud Party who would be happy to fill his place.”

Smotrich vowed on Tuesday to promote unrestrained construction in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, despite opposition from the Biden administration.

“The real answer to [Palestinian] terror is to continue to build, to continue to set roots in the Land of Israel,” said Smotrich at a meeting of his RZP in Givat Harel, one of the nine outposts the Security Cabinet on Sunday decided to legalize.

“The American response is entirely understandable,” he continued, but “the [Biden] administration knows that this government is committed to the settlements. There’s nothing wrong with two friends having disputes. They understand, and that’s the way things will continue.”

Smotrich has announced that he would soon advance plans to construct some additional 10,000 homes in Judea and Samaria.

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