Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is negotiating with settlers to legalize the Havat Gilad outpost, in exchange for their voluntary withdrawal from four structures in Area B of the West Bank.
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Area B is designated under the Oslo agreements as being under Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control.
Following two weeks of intense negotiations, the settlers have agreed to evacuate the four Area B structures – which are slated by the state for demolition – within eight days. In exchange for their voluntary withdrawal, Ya'alon (Likud) has agreed to examine the possibility of officially recognizing the Havat Gilad settlement, beginning with an examination of land ownership rights.
This is the first time a government source has declared their intention to legalize the Havat Gilad outpost.
“The possibility of legitimizing part of the disputed area is being examined, in parallel to the vacating of buildings that are clearly on Palestinian land," Ya'alon's office said. "We abide by the law and will continue to do so. Whatever is illegal will be treated as such.”
Settlers from Havat Gilad declined to comment.
The Havat Gilad outpost has about 40 structures. It was established in 2002 by Itai Zar in memory of his brother Gilad, the Shomron security officer who was shot and killed by terrorists.
Shortly after its establishment the settlement was evacuated twice, whereupon physical altercations ensued. But since then it has prospered and grown, and today it even has its own yeshiva.
The legal status of the land is complex. According to Civil Administration records, the land used to be tilled by Palestinians and therefore would appear to belong to them. However, Har Vagai – a company owned by Moshe Zar, Itai Zar’s father – has filed to transfer registration of the land to its name after purchasing it. This request is still being processed by the Civil Administration, and a decision has not yet been made.
In February 2012, residents of the neighboring village of Farata and Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights appealed to the High Court of Justice, requesting the demolition of the four structures built on Area B land which they said belonged to the plaintiffs. (Under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority has jurisdiction over construction planning, but the Israel Defense Forces is responsible for enforcement among settlers.) The state responded to the High Court by agreeing to tear them down.
Yesh Din has come out against the news of Ya'alon's negotiations with settlers. Haim Erlich, Yesh Din's director general, responded that “Defense Minister Ya'alon is currently encouraging settlers across the West Bank to continue grabbing private Palestinian land."
"The legitimization of Havat Gilad will only add power to the settlers’ criminal actions," Erlich said. "At a time when the state is deliberating whether to define settler violence as acts of terror or as unauthorized assembly, it is becoming an active accessory to criminal acts and the stealing of private Palestinian land.”
Gershon Mesika, the head of the Shomron Regional Council, and his deputy, Yossi Dagan, are members of Likud and known supporters of Ya'alon.