Likud Bill Seeks to Stave Off Demolition of Illegal West Bank Outpost

Netanyahu is worried that forcing settlers out of Amona would harm his chances in next election, says party source.

A file photo of the Amona outpost.
Olivier Fitoussi

The evacuation of Amona, the biggest outpost in the West Bank, would be put off for seven years under a bill that two Knesset members from Likud are expected to submit Wednesday. The High Court of Justice ordered the settlement to be cleared two years ago and set the deadline at year-end 2016.

Two days ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is working on postponing the move. Netanyahu also called on his colleagues in Likud to help him resolve the problem.

It appears that MKs Miki Zohar and David Bitan have risen to the challenge: According to their proposal, the evacuation of any settlement more than 10 years old may be delayed by seven years if there are no landowners demanding the land back.

Their bill does not name Amona specifically. However, Amona was founded in 1997 on private land next to the settlement of Ofra. The outpost was the site of a violent confrontation in 2006, when security forces entered to demolish nine illegally erected buildings.

Amona has been at the center of a legal dispute for the last eight years, following a motion by Palestinian landowners through the Yesh Din nonprofit organization.

Originally the state undertook to demolish the outpost entirely by 2012. After a number of postponements, it announced that it would only demolish the portions specified by the motion.

The Amona settlers for their part claimed to have bought some of the lots legally. However, experts ruled that at least part of the purchase documents they presented in court were forged.

In late 2014, the president of the Supreme Court at the time, Asher Grunis, ruled that the entire outpost had to be evacuated by December 25, 2016.

Amona is considered a sputtering time bomb for the coalition. “Netanyahu evacuating settlers by force would hurt him and Likud badly ahead of the next elections,” a Likud MK told Haaretz Wednesday. Netanyahu doesn’t want to evict the settlers, and more than that, he doesn’t want to trample on his natural constituency, the Likud source added. 

Evacuating Amona could be the move that spurs Naftali Bennett to stalk out of the coalition, taking quite a few Likud voters with him – “Netanyahu wouldn’t want that either,” the source added.

Sources in Bennett’s party, Habayit Hayehudi, already said earlier this month that the demolition of Amona could be grounds for abandoning the coalition. But before taking drastic moves, they decided to restart the process of regulating the expropriation of private Palestinian land for settlements. According to the bill, Palestinian landowners would get generous compensation, both in alternative land and in money; and buildings erected in settlements on their original lands would be legitimized retroactively.

The bill would not, however, allow the Palestinians to object to the expropriation of their lands.

According to research by the right-wing nonprofit organization Regavim, which was submitted to the Knesset in May, various settlements have 2,026 building erected on private Palestinian land.

The chance of Habayit Hayehudi actually managing to push through its bill is remote, however. Last October, MK Yoav Kish (a member of Likud) withdrew a similar bill from the ministerial legislative committee because of the security situation and concern for international criticism against Israel at that sensitive time. During his term, Netanyahu himself had blocked another similar bill on the grounds that it could ruin Israel’s interests instead of advancing them.

The Knesset never has legislated the status of land in the West Bank. Today, under international law, the military commander is the sovereign in the West Bank, and is responsible for deciding on the status of a given piece of land.

If it does pass, the Habayit Hayehudi bill will completely change the situation: For the first time, the Knesset would be the one deciding on the status of land in the West Bank.

Not only would the bill obviate much discussion on future evacuation of settlements – it is designed to circumvent court rulings, such as the one ordering the demolitions in Amona.