The Israeli government has postponed the evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar until further notice, following weeks of rising tensions in the Bedouin village.
Following a meeting with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the village will soon be “evacuated,” adding that the government plans on implementing the September High Court decision allowing for the demolition of the village.
“I don’t intend to postpone it until further notice contrary to what has been reported, but [make it happen] within a short, fixed period of time. The duration we will give to evacuate it in consent will be decided by the cabinet,” Netanyahu said.
Later Sunday afternoon, the Israeli news website Haaretz that the Israeli security cabinet approved Netanyahu’s plans to temporarily postpone the demolition “in order to exhaust negotiations with the village residents.”
Haaretz reported that the government is holding off on the forcible evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar for a few weeks, in hopes of negotiating a “voluntary evacuation” with the village’s 200 residents.
The report quoted military sources saying they are ready for the demolition but waiting for orders from political leadership.
Despite previously rejecting the idea of a voluntary evacuation, the villagers are reportedly discussing a proposal for an evacuation to a new location a few hundreds of meters away from the current village site, according to the Haaretz report.
Though the villagers of Khan al-Ahmar have yet to release a statement on their response to the announcement, celebrations erupted in Khan al-Ahmar on Saturday night as activists and locals got word of the delay.
Netanyahu’s announcement came amid backlash from members of his right-wing government, who criticized the decision to postpone the demolition of the village.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman expressed his “resolute opposition” to the delay, while Education Minister Naftali Bennett said his party will “make sure” the demolition happens, despite widespread condemnation from the international community.
Meanwhile, the pro-settler Israeli NGO Regavim announced on Saturday night that it would be holding a demonstration near Khan al-Ahmar on Monday in opposition to Netanyahu’s decision.
“For years, Prime Minister Netanyahu has implemented a policy of selective law enforcement against Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria,” the group said, using the biblical name for the West Bank. “Tonight’s decision reeks of cowardice and makes a laughingstock of Israel’s sovereignty and commitment to law and order.”
Israeli intends on building hundreds of settlement units on the village lands, eventually linking the Jewish colonies of Kfar Adumim and Maale Adumim with East Jerusalem — a move that critics say would effectively split the West Bank in half and make a future contiguous Palestinian state impossible.
Tensions have been high in the village since the High Court gave the green light in September for the government to proceed with the demolition. Activists have noted that court did not order eviction and demolition, but ruled that the village’s structures are “illegal” and may be demolished at the discretion of the state.
In the weeks following the decision, local and international activists have been camping out at the village in anticipation of the demolition, joined by dozens of journalists.
Last week, five people were injured and four activists were arrested by Israeli forces after confrontations broke out in the village.
The Israeli government has maintained that Khan al-Ahmar, which is primarily built out of tin structures and tents, was erected without Israeli-issued building permits on so-called “state lands,” which are nearly impossible to obtain, and it was therefore “illegal” and subject to demolition.
The villagers have fought for years against the government plans to demolish their homes, agricultural structures, and village school, arguing that forcible transfer constitutes a war crime, and relocating them to a site with permanent structures and little land would jeopardize the sustainability of their lifestyle as shepherds.
The government intends on relocating the villagers to the Jabal West site, near the Abu Dis landfill. Israeli authorities have been working at the site for weeks, erecting permanent shelters for the displaced residents of Khan al-Ahmar.