Removal of West Bank outpost tests Israel's new coalition

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli authorities on Friday dismantled a small settler outpost in the occupied West Bank, a day after it was erected, in a major test to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new ruling coalition.

Footage broadcast by Israeli media showed troops removing the outpost of Or Chaim without any violence. The action, however, triggered a dispute between the ultranationalist wing of Israel’s new government and its partner, Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Netanyahu’s new coalition has set as one of its priorities the expanding of settlements. While Israeli authorities differentiate between settlements and unauthorized outposts, the international community overwhelmingly views all settlements as illegal and obstacles to peace.

Or Chaim, named after the late religious Zionist leader Rabbi Chaim Druckman, was built by five settler families on Thursday near the Palestinian city of Nablus in northern West Bank.

Defense Minister Yoav Galant ordered the outpost evacuated but Bezalel Smotrich — head of the ultranationalist Religious Zionism party and a Cabinet minister with jurisdiction over some Israeli activities in the West Bank — said this went against his directive on Friday morning to postpone any actions on the new outpost pending further discussions.

Under the terms that formed Netanyahu’s coalition, Smotrich was appointed minister in the defense ministry responsible for Israeli activities in the West Bank. He is also the finance minister.

Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister will hold discussions on the issue next week. The office released a statement Friday from Netanyahu, saying he backed settlement building, “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.”

The standoff comes a day after U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders amid the Biden administration’s unease over Netanyahu’s government pledges to rapidly expand West Bank settlement building.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and has built more than 130 authorized settlements there, many of which resemble small towns, with apartment blocks, shopping malls and industrial zones. The Palestinians want the West Bank to form the main part of their future state.

The Associated Press