Yesha settlement umbrella group appoints Shlomo Ne’eman as new leader

Shlomo Ne’eman was elected Tuesday as head of the Yesha Council umbrella organization representing local authorities in West Bank settlements.

Ne’eman, who heads the Gush Etzion Regional Council, was elected unopposed after an agreement was reached among fellow council heads. No other candidates vied for the position, Yesha said in a statement.

He will succeed David Elhayani, who announced in July he was stepping down after a tempestuous three-year tenure.

The Yesha council, formed in the 1980s, consists of some two dozen settlement mayors and heads of local councils in the West Bank. It has no official role, but receives funding from the state, and has at times wielded significant power in shaping government policy regarding settlements.

Ne’eman said his first objective will be “to bolster sovereignty and the Jewish presence in the region.”

Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Edition
by email and never miss our top stories

By signing up, you agree to the terms

He called for concerted action against “the Palestinian Authority and other terrorist organizations” accusing them of fighting Israel with weapons, but also by farming or building.

Elhayani described his successor as “a man of action who acts with determination and honesty for truth and justice.”

Leaders of the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism parties, which both back the settlement movement, welcomed Ne’eman’s appointment.

Far-right Otzma Yehudit MK Itamar Ben Gvir lauded Ne’eman, saying “there is no one more suitable for the role.”

MK Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionism party, called Ne’eman “the right man to lead the campaign of advancing and developing settlement in Judea and Samaria,” using a biblical name for the West Bank.

A former Jewish Agency official, Ne’eman has headed the Gush Etzion Regional Council since a surprise victory in a February 2017 special election.

He immigrated to Israel in 1990 from the town of Birobidzhan in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast of the former Soviet Union, now Russia. He first joined the Gust Etzion local council in 2017 and became mayor in 2018.

Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Elhayani attends a press conference of the Yesha Council outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, August 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Elhayani, who is also head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, was narrowly elected Yesha chair in November 2019. Although originally a member of the opposition Likud party and a close ally of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Elhayani switched his allegiance to the rival right-wing New Hope party, formed by renegade Likud member Gideon Sa’ar, ahead of the March 2021 elections.

This step significantly weakened his standing among residents and political leadership of the settlements, who have traditionally aligned with the right-wing, religious bloc of parties led by Netanyahu, now opposition leader.

Opposition to Elhayani continued to grow within the settlement movement from both residents and local mayors and council heads, creating a situation in which he lacked public and political support despite nominally being the political figurehead for the settlement movement.

In May, dozens of settlement local council members signed a letter calling for him to resign after he backed the government’s position on settlement legislation, which was at odds with that of many settler leaders, who adopted the Netanyahu-led opposition’s stance.

Read More

Rubi Pepper