The Palestinian village of Susiya is in the southern Hebron hills of Judea, part of the land known to many as the West Bank. The village is home to 300 people. Israel says that the residents built their homes without permits, and so the structures are eligible for demolition. The residents say that Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that they may live on the site but acknowledge that the court did not tell Israel’s Civil Administration to issue construction permits.
With Israel’s right wing weighing in against the village and the United States and European Union concerned that Susiya may suddenly be demolished, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to navigate carefully between the demands of his coalition partners and the warnings of his international allies.
Israel’s Supreme Court is now considering a petition filed on the matter, and Netanyahu has said he will abide by the court’s ruling. So why the foreign jitters? What led State Department spokesman John Kirby to announce that the United States was “closely following developments” and that “demolition of this Palestinian village or of parts of it and evictions of Palestinians from their homes would be harmful and provocative”?
One reason may be that demolition orders may not come from Netanyahu, but from his coalition partner and defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, himself a West Bank resident who follows his own ultra-nationalist ideology. Another reason might be because of the location of Susiya. It is near a growing Jewish settlement of the same name. It is also in Area C — the 60 percent of the West Bank currently under total Israeli control.
Many in Israel’s government — including Lieberman and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett — would like to see Area C annexed to Israel. The removal of Palestinian villages like Susiya would make room for Jewish settlement expansion and make annexation easier.
Susiya has been at issue for years. Its residents have been moved several times. In May 2015, the Supreme Court declined to freeze demolition orders against the village. And in June of this year, Israel reportedly demolished several structures there.
We hope that cooler heads will prevail. But the involvement of the United States and the European Union in what is unquestionably a local matter, now pending in the court system, is a distraction that can only serve to inflame tensions.
We urge the State Department to back away from potential confrontation and to show the same respect for sensitive internal issues being considered in Israel’s high court as we would expect from our allies in similar circumstances.
History has shown that the State of Israel follows the rulings of its courts and respects the rule of law. We have no reason to believe anything different will happen here.