The Israeli government was set on Sunday to ask the Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, to dismiss a petition seeking to force the state to evacuate the illegal Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar.
The government will cite ongoing negotiations with the residents of the encampment on a compromise plan to resettle them, along with the potential diplomatic and security ramifications associated with the prospective demolition.
In response, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich—a proponent of demolishing the hamlet—reportedly wrote a letter to Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs calling for an immediate halt to the filing of the state’s response.
In the letter, Smotrich argued that under the coalition agreement signed between his Religious Zionism Party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, he would have a say in the formation of the government’s policy on the issue.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir subsequently backed Smotrich, telling local media he conveyed a “clear message to Netanyahu that if reports of the draft response are true, it is a shameful and grave decision.”
The government in February asked the court for a four-month extension for submitting its response to a ruling demanding the implementation of demolition orders against Khan al-Ahmar.
It was the ninth time the state had requested a postponement.
At the time, lawmaker Danny Danon, chairman of World Likud and former ambassador to the U.N., said, “In attempting to avoid the immediate eviction of Khan al-Ahmar, the government’s response to the Supreme Court sets a dangerous precedent and gives the Palestinian Authority free rein to construct additional illegal outposts. This government was elected to change the floundering policies of the previous government rather than to continue with their oversights. It is not too late to act and evict Khan al-Ahmar.”
The legal battle over the issue began in 2009 when Israeli NGO Regavim filed its first petition against what it called “the Palestinian Authority’s flagship outpost in the systematic takeover of Area C” of Judea and Samaria. The encampment is built on state land belonging to the city of Ma’ale Adumim, east of Jerusalem.
While the Supreme Court has rejected the residents’ appeal and upheld lower courts’ rulings ordering Khan al-Ahmar be evacuated, previous governments, including those led by Netanyahu, have asked for and received deferments.
Israel has invested some 80 million shekels ($23.7 million) into a relocation site for the residents of Khan al-Ahmar near Abu Dis, where the government has prepared infrastructure, roads, electricity, water, sewage, a health clinic and school, all on state land.
On Sunday, Regavim released a statement slamming the governing coalition: “We have not yet received the state’s response to the Supreme Court. If indeed this is the response, then this government has no right to exist. Four months after its establishment, it seems that the only policy this government is promoting is a left-wing policy.”
According to a recent report by Regavim, Arab expansion into land in Judea and Samaria is far outpacing Israeli growth in the area. The NGO noted more than 170 illegal outposts in Area C of Judea and Samaria, created by the Palestinian Authority and funded by the European Union.