IDF Base Would Have to Be Turned Over to Settlement to Make Room for New Homes

Defense Ministry document details how army can help Benjamin Netanyahu keep promise.

An Israel Defense Forces base and a nearby Border Police base would have to be turned over to the settlement of Beit El in order to fulfill Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's promise to build 300 new apartments there, a Defense Ministry document states. Doing so would require a lengthy bureaucratic process, it warned, but all the alternatives would require legal permits that seem unlikely to be obtained.

The document has been submitted to various ministers and senior government officials recently, but no official decision on evacuating the bases has yet been made.

The 300 new houses are one of several steps Netanyahu promised last week to compensate for the court-ordered demolition of Beit El's Ulpana neighborhood, which was built on privately-owned Palestinian land. Already, however, it has become clear that two of those promises won't be kept: The Ulpana houses will indeed be razed, rather than being transferred intact to a new location, while the legal opinion Netanyahu said he had obtained from Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to ensure that other neighborhoods or outposts built on private Palestinian land won't be demolished turned out to be nothing more than a promise to consider each such case on its merits.

What remains of Netanyahu's promise are the 300 new houses. However, there is no unused state land near the settlement on which to build them. In order to construct the homes, the document states, it will be necessary to evacuate the base that now serves the IDF's Benjamin Brigade - which was formerly a Jordanian army base - and transfer this land to Beit El's jurisdiction. It also proposes transferring the Border Police base, half of which is already in Beit El's jurisdiction. These moves will require formal approval by the government, followed by a lengthy bureaucratic process to draft and approve new master plans for the area.

But any other options would require the approval of senior legal officials. For instance, there are several places within existing neighborhoods of Beit El where additional houses could be built, but all these neighborhoods lie on private Palestinian land that was originally confiscated for military purposes prior to 1979, when the High Court ruled that private land confiscated for military purposes could not be used for building settlements. In light of that ruling, the document states, "a legal opinion approved by the deputy attorney general" would be needed to determine whether additional housing could be built on these lands.

Meanwhile, having realized that most of Netanyahu's promises won't be kept, settlers have been escalating their protests in recent days. On Wednesday, Defense Ministry contractors said they were stoned by settler teens when they visited Ulpana. But the settlers claim the contractors tried to run the boys over.

Also on Wednesday, Beit El's chief rabbi, Zalman Melamed, published an open letter urging the public and Knesset members to gird themselves for battle to preserve the neighborhood.

A demonstration at the Ulpana neighborhood in West Bank settlement of Beit El, June 4, 2012.
Emil Salman