Court Order to Demolish West Bank Outpost Hinders Issue's Resolution, Israeli Officials Say

Speaking following meeting of Netanyahu's top cabinet ministers, sources say no decision was made; Vice PM Shalom: Likud should push law to regulate settlement project.

A High Court of Justice order to demolish structures in a West Bank settlement turned the issue into a difficult one to resolve, Israeli officials said following a meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's senior cabinet members on Friday.

Cabinet ministers have convened several times in the past few weeks to discuss the future of illegal buildings in the Ulpana neighborhood of the West Bank settlement of Beit El, built on private Palestinian land.

Netanyahu and Mofaz - Michal Fattal - 9/5/2012
Michal Fattal

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.

It was estimated that Friday's meeting would center around discussion of the 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.

The Ulpana neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Beit El .
Emil Salman

According to officials with knowledge of Friday's meeting, the first such session participated by new Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, the meet culminated without any outstanding decisions on the matter.

The sources further indicated that the High Court rejection of the state's request complicated the issue to the point in which a solution was not currently in sight.

Aside from Netanyahu and Mofaz, the meeting was also participated by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Minister Benny Begin, and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman.

Meanwhile, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom spoke to the head of the Beit El council, telling him that there was no other possibility but to legislate a declarative law on the matter.

Shalom said that settlement in the West Bank was a value that the Likud wished to advance and that it was pointless to fight for each hill, necessitating a law that would allow further the establishment of the settlement project.

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.