Attorney General Menachem Mazuz said Wednesday that the settlers who for the last three weeks have been occupying a building in Hebron should be allowed to petition the High Court of Justice against their eviction. Therefore, Mazuz said, they could not be evacuated immediately.
The settlers have 30 days to petition against their eviction. According to Mazuz, the settlers' inhabitance of the house - which they claim to own after having paid $700,000 for it - cannot be defined as "invasion" and is therefore not subject to immediate eviction. Mazuz did, however, order their eviction based on the fact that even if the house were legally acquired, the settlers still required permission from the Israeli Civil Administration to inhabit it.
Still, the attorney general said the settlers have the right to a hearing, to appeal the eviction order, and to submit a petition to the High Court of Justice before the evacuation is implemented. The settlers will therefore be given 30 days to voluntarily leave the disputed building, which they have been occupying since March 19.
Mazuz's decision was delivered during a meeting he held on the subject with Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who urged him to find legal grounds for eviction. Some cabinet ministers have subsequently accused Peretz that his efforts in the eviction were motivated by political considerations, namely his desire to be reelected as Labor chairman in the upcoming primaries.
Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Peretz was "making hysterical decisions that he thinks will help him in the primaries." Other MKs from Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu said Peretz was trying to win over Arab Labor members at the expense of the settlers. Peretz denied the accusations.
Interior Minister Roni Bar-On also implied Peretz was guided by political motivations. "This is not a matter of ideology, and it must not become a source for political trickery. It must not become an arena for political warfare," he said. Bar-On requested the government hold an urgent discussion aimed at deciding whether Peretz had the authority to go ahead with the eviction without the full consent of the cabinet. The request was denied.
However, the Prime Minister's Bureau said that the position of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "was not as of yet decided." Officials in the bureau added that they had received reports of the situation and that Olmert would formulate his stance after "reviewing all the relevant material."
The sources refused to state their opinion regarding Peretz's motives in pressing ahead with the eviction. It seems Olmert, too, is not interested in transforming the issue into another area of confrontation with Peretz, as his relationship with the defense minister is reportedly already very tense.
The Yesha Council, representing the settlers' cause, called Peretz's decision "wanton and irresponsible," citing their belief that Peretz was "nearing the end of his term in office, and therefore should leave all significant decisions to the government." Noam Arnon, chairman of the board of the Jewish community of Hebron, said the settlers were "not surprised to find that Mazuz is behind yet another attempt to evict Jews from their homes, with Peretz's complicity.
The representatives of the local community went on to meet Wednesday with Industry, Trade, and Labor Minister Eli Yishai, who had visited Hebron along with the spiritual leader of Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
During the meeting, Yishai expressed unwavering support for the settlers' cause. "I cannot fathom why someone would think that Jewish citizens should be evicted from a house they bought and paid for," he said, after hearing from the settlers that their presence there was "needed to ensure security in the area."
Yuval Yoaz and Yair Ettinger contributed to this report.
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