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Coalition Deal to Grant the Otzmah Yehudit Party Authority Over Some of the Most Volatile Policy Issues in East Jerusalem
1 December 2022
On Friday, November 25 2022, Likud and the extremist right-wing party Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”) parties signed an agreement detailing the ministerial and Knesset Committees roles which Otzma Yehudit will receive in the upcoming government.

Party chair Itamar Ben-Gvir is a lawyer who has made a name for himself representing clients tried for Jewish terrorism and hate crimes, and has dozens of indictments for incitement himself. He will be nominated as the minister of the newfound and expansive “Ministry of National Security” while his party will head two additional ministries (a total of three ministries), two Knesset committees, and one of its members will be appointed as Deputy Economy Minister.

These diversified roles will give the party authority over a wide range of politically sensitive issues in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and within the Green Line.

In this alert we will focus on volatile East Jerusalem issues which will come under direct authority of the Otzmah Yehudit party.
National Security Ministry

The Ministry of Public Security will be expanded and renamed as the “Ministry of National Security.” In the new Knesset, Otzmah Yehudit chair Itamar Ben-Gvir will become the Minister of National Security.

Whereas today the chief of police enjoys relative political independence in his decision-making, the agreement with Otzmah Yehudit states that legislation will be advanced to give the minister of National Security the authority to instruct and possibly dictate police conduct and policy.

This would give Ben-Gvir oversight of police actions in a range of issues pertaining to East Jerusalem:
  • Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif
    Ben-Gvir is a longtime supporter of the Temple Movements and has regularly visited the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, calling "to implement our ownership of the place". Following the signing of the coalition agreement, Ben-Gvir has already declared his intention to "take action against the racist policy against Jews in the Temple Mount". Prior to the elections, Ben-Gvir made numerous statements about the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, urged the government to enforce its “sovereignty” over it, and went on highly provocative visits to the holy site.  As the Minister of National Security, Ben-Gvir will be in a position to pressure the police to further relax restrictions against Jewish prayer in the holy compound (a violation of the status quo), appoint high-ranking officers based on their support for said violations of the status quo, and demand that the police restrict freedom of access and freedom of worship to Muslims.

    It is important to note that collective restrictions on Muslim access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque – something for which Temple activists fiercely lobby -  has contributed to escalations in violence on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.
     
  • Violent police raids and collective punishment in East Jerusalem neighborhoods
    Further legislation intended for allowing the Minister of National Security to directly influence police conduct and policy, which are already characterized as very aggressive towards East Jerusalemites, is alarming. In recent months, Ben-Gvir has been personally involved in incidents leading to recurring violent attacks against Palestinian residents in Sheikh Jarrah. Violent policing and collective punishment in East Jerusalem will threaten the safety of thousands of Palestinians in entire residential areas. This conduct needs to be reduced, not inflamed by a firebrand minister known for engaging in provocative security situations.
 
As part of the coalition deal, the Ministry of Internal Security will be expanded to include additional state bodies previously included within other ministries. This means Ben-Gvir will have authority over:
  • The Land Enforcement Unit
    This unit is currently under the auspices of the Ministry of Finance but will be transferred to the Ministry of National Security. The unit is the most aggressive of the various state bodies who carry out home demolitions.

    Despite the Jerusalem Municipality having an enforcement unit of its own, the Land Enforcement Unit also operates in sensitive neighborhoods in East Jerusalem such as Al-Walaja, where dozens of homes are at risk of demolition and wide-scale home demolitions threaten mass displacement of the community.
     
  • Sayeret Hayerukah (“The Green Commandos”)
    This enforcement unit is currently part of the Nature and Parks Authority but will be transferred to the Ministry of National Security. In East Jerusalem, the unit operates against Palestinian construction in open spaces. One such area is the Mount Scopus Slopes where the adjacent communities of Issawiyah and A-tur have been working for more than two decades to advance urban planning opportunities that will legalize desperately-needed development of their neighborhoods.
The Nature and Parks Authority presently coordinates with the settler organization ELAD to transform the olive terraces at the entrance to the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, located on the slopes outside the Old City, into an open space activity area centered around Jewish heritage. The ‘Sayeret Hayerukah’ may be dispatched there to deal with Palestinian construction in the area.

The centralization of police units along with the above-mentioned enforcement units could allow Ben-Gvir to further politicize additional aspects of law enforcement and utilize their power against Palestinian communities and/or for advancing settlement projects.


Ministry of Heritage

This ministry will be formed from the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry, under which it currently lies. The ministry will oversee the Antiquities Authority and the Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites. Amichai Eliyahu of Otzma Yehudit is slated to become its minister.

The Heritage Ministry will be in charge of archeological sites and projects where purported ‘Jewish heritage sites’ are slated to take over public land and will serve to expand Israeli settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

In July, the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage officially announced a renewed plan to establish a Yemenite Jewish heritage center in the home of Palestinian families evicted in 2015 from Batan al-Hawa, Silwan. This is despite the fact that a freeze had been imposed on the plan since June 2021 as a result of legal action initiated by Ir Amim. The agreement between the Justice Minister - Gidon Sa’ar, Jerusalem Affairs Minister - Ze’ev Elkin, and the Benvenisti Trust - controlled by the Ateret Cohanim settler organization, circumvented the freeze and the legal obstacles preventing its advancement. 

The ministry will also be able to advance projects for the Sambuski Cemetery at the entrance to Silwan, an abandoned Jewish cemetery. The ELAD settler organization is currently advancing massive projects in and around the cemetery that aim to take over the area and use it to link its settler compounds in Silwan with West Jerusalem.

The Antiquities Authority also works closely with ELAD in its projects that erase the Palestinian presence in Silwan and supplant it with an exclusively Israeli-Jewish narrative.


Knesset Committee for Internal Security

According to the coalition deal, the Knesset Committee for Internal Security will be chaired by Otzmah Yehudit MK Zvika Fogel. The committee's chair sets its agenda, manages its sessions, and drafts committee resolutions.

The committee also oversees the police. It has the authority to initiate and discuss legislation regarding police conduct and internal security, summon police officers (as well as other relevant position holders) to its sessions, demand information, and initiate inquiries.

In the past, right-wing MK's have used the committee in order to erode the Status Quo on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, push for aggressive policing and punishment against East Jerusalemites, and portray legitimate forms of protests as nationalistic violence.
Amy Cohen is currently away on leave for an international working trip. This alert was written by Ir Amim Researcher Aviv Tatarsky.

For further inquiries, please contact: aviv@ir-amim.org.il
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