The Ulpana neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Beit El
The Ulpana neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Beit El. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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Emil Salman
Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz speaking at a joint news conference, May 8, 2012 Photo by Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a meeting of senior ministers for Friday morning to discuss the evacuation of five residential buildings in the Ulpana neighborhood of the West Bank settlement of Beit El.

Cabinet ministers have convened several times in the past few weeks to discuss the future of the buildings, which are on private Palestinian land. This will be the first since Shaul Mofaz joined the coalition and was named vice prime minister.

Mofaz declined to discuss his position on the buildings on Thursday. "He wants to hear the expert opinions of the Defense Ministry and the Justice Ministry before responding publicly," an aide to Mofaz said.

Earlier this week the High Court of Justice ordered the demolition of the buildings by July 1, in a rejection of the state's request that it reconsider its ruling.

The court said the state had pledged a year ago to evacuate the houses by July 1 and there were no extenuating circumstances requiring it to revisit the matter.

Among those expected to attend the Friday meeting, in addition to Netanyahu and Mofaz, are cabinet members Yaakov Neeman, Benny Begin and Moshe Ya'alon and representatives from the State Prosecutor's Office and the Civil Administration.

The ministers are expected to discuss ways to get around the High Court ruling, including by passing a law approving the disputed buildings. Many Likud ministers are said to approve such an option in the belief it will greatly inhibit the ability of the Palestinians to demand the land, which they claim is theirs.

Netanyahu said earlier this week "thought should be given" to a law that would provide retroactive approval for the buildings, the first time he had not outrightly rejected the notion.

Such a law would be likely to be met with harsh international criticism.

The Defense Ministry, which supports evacuation of the houses, is considered unlikely to propose new solutions. Its position is that the buildings should be demolished as the High Court ordered, and its residents moved to homes in Beit El, built on state land.

Residents of the Ulpana neighborhood said Monday they had no intention of negotiating a departure from their homes, and that it was up to the state to solve their problem.

In the case of the West Bank outpost of Migron, the High Court also rejected the state's request to postpone that evacuation. The court reaffirmed its order that Migron be evacuated by August 1, 2012.

On March 1, Begin and the residents of Migron reached an agreement for the voluntary evacuation, after the state decided on February 26 to fund two temporary housing solutions for the residents of the illegal outpost. Each temporary housing project would cost at least NIS 25 million. In Migron the settlers agreed to move from prefabricated, temporary homes to permanent housing, whereas in Ulpana the residents are being asked to leave permanent housing which they consider their dream homes.