Dozens of Settlers Build Illegal Structures in Previously Evacuated West Bank Outpost

A right-wing Israeli lawmaker and local officials are among dozens who entered the closed-off area of Amona, evacuated in February 2017

File photo: The illegal West Bank outpost of Amona, which has since been evacuated, in 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

Dozens of settlers have illegally entered the area of former West Bank outpost Amona, which was evacuated nearly two years ago, and set up to two new structures.

The outpost, built on private Palestinian land and never authorized by the Israeli authorities, was ordered evacuated by the High Court of Justice in 2014, but dates for the eviction were pushed back until a final date was set for February 2017.

The group of settlers this week included right-wing MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), Mateh Binyamin Regional Council chief Israel Gantz and Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan.

Smotrich said in a tweet that the land had been purchased legally, though this claim has not been verified and Smotrich has not presented any documents to support it.

Following Amona's evacuation, a closed-military-zone decree prevented Palestinians from entering the area. Such decrees theoretically apply to Israelis as well, but they have been enforced only against Palestinians.

File photo: MK Bezalel Smotrich at the illegal Amona outpost in the West Bank, February 1, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

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Following several attacks on Israeli forces and civilians in the West Bank over the past week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would legalize thousands of Jewish homes in the area. The Prime Minister's Office said it would promote the construction of 82 new housing units in the settlement of Ofra near Amona, as well as two new industrial zones near the settlements of Avnei Hefetz and Betar Ilit.

After Netanyahu's statement, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit  approved the so-called market amendment that is expected to lead to the legalization of some 2,000 housing units in the West Bank. Mendelblit was also responding to pressure from Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, the No. 2 in the Habayit Hayehudi party behind Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

The amendment is based on an order pertaining to government property in the West Bank. It says "a transaction made in good faith between the custodian of government property in the territories and another person, regarding a property the custodian believed at the time to be government property," is valid, even if the land did not belong to the state.

This principle was the basis for a Jerusalem District Court ruling in August, which stated that the Mitzpeh Kramim outpost must be legalized. Although this was an exceptional case, experts in property law in Israel and the West Bank believe that courts can interpret the ruling to allow a mass legalization of homes in the settlements.

On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation is expected to discuss a bill proposed by Smotrich to legalize a series of outposts and settlements.

The proposal seeks to supply settlements whose status has yet to be confirmed with services that would prevent their demolition until they receive official status. The committee, headed by a former head of the Yesha Council of settlements, Pinchas Wallerstein, was set up last year but has yet to meet.