Israel’s justice ministry on Sunday requested more time to respond to a petition on demolishing a strategically located Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank that drew international concern.
The government is locked in a supreme court showdown with a right-wing Israeli NGO over the proposed demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, located east of Jerusalem along a road leading to the Dead Sea.
The hamlet was set to be evacuated and demolished three years ago after it was ruled to have been built illegally and attempts to agree on an alternative site for relocation failed.
Khan al-Ahmar’s fate drew international concern, with European countries calling on Israel not to move ahead with plans to demolish it, and in October 2018, the office of then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu froze the demolition plans.
The decision to halt the demolition was slammed by members of Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition including current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, then education minister, who pledged he would “ensure it happens.”
Regavim, a right-wing Israeli NGO which supports Jewish settlements, in 2019 filed a petition to the supreme court demanding the state uphold its previous commitment to remove Khan al-Ahmar.
The state repeatedly requested more time to submit its response, with the court on July 21 saying that it had to do so by September 5.
On Sunday, the state asked for six more months, citing a secret document the foreign ministry had presented to the court in a closed-door session.
“The political echelon has decided that there is a need for more time before acting on the demolition orders,” the justice ministry said.
The state requested permission to update the court “on progress on the topic and the stance of the political echelon by 6.3.22,” it said.
Foreign states have told Israel that demolishing the village, home to around 200 residents, would constitute a violation of the Geneva convention and complicate the possibility of a two-state solution.
Meir Deutsch, head of Regavim, accused the government of “conducting its law enforcement system according to the whims of foreign governments.”
“The time has come for the State of Israel to exercise its rights to this territory, and to behave in a manner befitting the sovereign body responsible for law enforcement in the area,” he said in a statement.