Israel 'temporarily' freezes plans to demolish Palestinian village after international criticism
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu froze the planned demolition in Khan al-Ahmar, a small village located east of Jerusalem along a road leading to the Dead Sea, which Israeli authorities claimed was built illegally.
"The intention is to give a chance to the negotiations and the offers we received from different bodies, including in recent days," a statement from Netanyahu's office said about Khan al-Ahmar.
But speaking later ahead of a meeting with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Netanyahu appeared to play down the latest move and insisted that the village would still be cleared eventually.
"It's our policy and it will take place," he said. "I have no intention on delaying it indefinitely, but for a short, limited period."
Netanyahu said the extent of the delay would be determined by the security cabinet, which was due to convene on Sunday.
Israeli authorities had given residents until the beginning of October to leave and demolish their structures.
The decision to evict the villagers followed years of legal battles and after negotiated attempts to agree on an alternative site for relocation failed.
The fate of Khan al-Ahmar has drawn international concern, with European countries calling on Israel not to move ahead with plans to demolish it.
On September 5, Israel’s supreme court rejected a final appeal against the demolition, but following that ruling, there have been unofficial attempts to reach understandings, a lawyer representing the village's residents told AFP.
"Our offers were based on what we told the court, that we're willing to move a few hundred metres to the north," Tawfiq Jabareen said. "Based on these proposals we've reached understandings."
The government has yet to respond to the proposals, Jabereen said, refusing to divulge the identity of the person attempting to mediate between the sides.
Netanyahu's move raised the ire of his two major coalition partners, with Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman saying he opposed the decision to delay the demolition.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett also insisted the law must be upheld, "even if the international community opposes and threatens".
On Wednesday, the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor warned that Israel's planned "evacuation by force" of the village could constitute a war crime.
The residents have refused to leave on their own, and Israel had been making the preparations to expel the residents and demolish the village.
Khan al-Ahmar is situated in a strategic spot near Israeli settlements.
There have been warnings that continued settlement building in the area would eventually divide the West Bank in two, dealing a death blow to any remaining hopes of a two-state solution.
The present village, which has a population of 173, including 92 children, consists mainly of makeshift structures of tin and wood, as is generally the case with Bedouin sites.
The residents of the village were given two options for relocation - one of which is to live by a landfill in Abu Dis until a structure next to a sewage plant close to Jericho can be arranged.
The village is being demolished under the Israeli pretext of being "illegally built without a permit" but activists say the villagers had little alternative, as Israeli construction permits are almost never issued to Palestinians.
Applying for building permits also comes with various taxes and fees that amount to tens of thousands of dollars - an unaffordable move for many Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, where 27 percent live under the poverty line.
Applications for building permits are also known to take years to be processed, giving Israeli courts a loophole to increase Palestinian home demolitions by branding structures as "illegal".
Khan al-Ahmar is located in the 60 percent of the West Bank known as Area C, which remains under exclusive Israeli control and is home to hundreds of Israeli settlements.