Satellite image of the plan to move the Ulpana neighborhood.
Satellite image of the plan to move the Ulpana neighborhood.
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Olivier Fitoussi
Beit El’s Ulpana neighborhood. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein held consultations with officials from the State Attorney's Office and the Military Advocate General Corp, on Sunday to debate the legality of the plan to move the Ulpana neighborhood to a nearby military zone.

The legality of the move was put in question during the debate because the area in question was expropriated for the establishment of a military base, in accordance with the law. Changing the use of the land for non-military use is not permitted though possible solutions are still being sought.

Meanwhile, MKs and right-wing activists called on Likud ministers to break with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and support a bill that would authorize settlement construction on privately owned Palestinian land.

The ministers are being called on to vote their consciences, but these appeals come with a tacit threat. If the ministers don't support the bill in a vote on Wednesday, they will be punished later down the line by Likud's right-wing faction.

In the campaign, activists have published newspaper advertisements reminding the Likud ministers of their statements favoring such a bill. Activists have also conducted a telephone survey to probe whether Likud voters would withdraw their support in a party election for ministers who don't back the bill.

"This law represents the only remaining solution to pave the way for this neighborhood, in a confrontation with the High Court," a backer of the law said. Supporters include MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi ), MK Zeev Elkin (Likud ) and MK Yaakov Katz (National Union ).

The bill stipulates that houses built on private Palestinian land will not be demolished if at least 20 Jewish families have lived there for more than four years. The bill's backers expect the vote after the preliminary reading Wednesday to represent a final legislative chance before the July 1 date the High Court set for evacuating the Beit El settlement's Ulpana neighborhood.

Netanyahu instructed Likud ministers on Sunday to oppose the bill, saying such a law would badly damage Israel diplomatically.

"Our policy is to strengthen settlement while upholding the law," Netanyahu said. "One can always opt for a legislative solution, but this has its costs, including ones in the international arena."

In recent days, Netanyahu has reiterated his concerns about an international backlash if the cabinet actively supports the bill.

On Sunday, Netanyahu sent his initiative for the evacuation of houses from Ulpana to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein for review. Netanyahu's plan calls for the Ulpana homes to be moved elsewhere; he also wants to ramp up construction in Beit El.

Netanyahu also asked Weinstein to examine whether his solution might trigger a wave of Palestinian demands for the evacuation of homes in other settlements.

"We will wait patiently for the attorney general's answers, so that we can reach an informed decision," Netanyahu told ministers on Sunday.

While Netanyahu has taken steps in recent days to prevent the bill from gaining traction, he has not been consistent. He told Orlev and Katz that he does not completely rule out legislation on the issue.

And while Netanyahu has backed a solution that would demolish homes in Ulpana, his aides said on Sunday that if the prime minister's policy is not backed by Weinstein, Netanyahu could end up backing the bill.

Yuli Edelstein was the only Likud minister on Sunday who said categorically he would support the bill. There were signs that two Likud ministers who have supported the bill in recent weeks will not vote Wednesday.

These are Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, who is also regional development minister and minister for the development of the Negev and Galilee.