Palestinians Claiming Ownership of West Bank Outpost Land Seek to Block Settler Deal

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Young men studying in the illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar, on Monday.
Young men studying in the illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar, on Monday. Credit: Moti Milrod

Palestinians who claim ownership of the land now occupied by the illegal Evyatar outpost on Tuesday asked Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to block an impending evacuation deal between the government and the settlers that leaves room for the settlers to eventually return.

“The purpose of this agreement is to circumvent the requirement that they evacuate the area, and constitutes a surrender to those who have invaded by force and rewards those who have built illegally,” the Palestinians wrote in their appeal.

The appeal comes a day after the Evyatar settlers said they had accepted a government proposal according to which they would leave the outpost by the end of the week, but the buildings would remain standing while the government examines the legal status of the land. Settler leaders said they were promised that if the investigation shows the outpost can be made legal, the residents will be able to return to their homes. In the meantime, an army base will occupy the site, and later a hesder yeshiva.

However, no government official has thus far made the terms of such a deal public, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday that “the Evyatar affair is not yet over.”

In their appeal to the attorney general, which is being handled by attorney Sliman Shahin from the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, the Palestinians asserted that the deal was illegal, violates their property rights and undermines the rule of law. The Palestinians are calling for the outpost, which was set up at the beginning of last month, to be evacuated and the infrastructure there dismantled.

They said the letter was accompanied by documents showing that they owned the land. The letter added that since the outpost was erected, they have been prevented, with military approval, from reaching adjacent land that they had been working.

The Palestinians also addressed the possibility of an army base or school occupying the spot through a confiscation order. They noted that since 1979, the use of such orders by the military to erect settlements had been ruled illegal. They warned that if Mendelblit does not respond positively to their appeal, they would consider petitioning the High Court of Justice.

At this stage, it is not clear how a hesder yeshiva could operate at Evyatar if the site has not been declared state land. The settlers in Evyatar said on Tuesday that their central disagreement with the government that remains unresolved is over establishing a yeshiva. Defense Minister Benny Gantz is not prepared to sign off on the deal because the yeshiva is supposed to be established before the land’s status has been verified. Several settlers said that on Tuesday that Yossi Dagan, the head of the Shomron Regional Council, had gone to Jerusalem to sign the agreement but came back empty-handed.

Residents of the Palestinian villages surrounding Evyatar have been staging daily protests against it. Since the outpost was established, four Palestinians have been killed in protests and clashes in the area.

Residents of Beita, one of the villages, have formed what they call “nighttime harassment units,” which burn large numbers of tires to create smoke, try to blind outpost residents with laser beams and march through the area with lit torches – all with the aim of trying to force the settlers to leave. Last week, the IDF removed many of the tires and blocked many of the roads that had enabled these units to approach Evyatar, thereby reducing the amount of smoke that reaches the outpost.

On Monday night, Haaretz reported that senior defense officials were surprised to learn of the proposed agreement between the settlers and the government. They said the compromise plan runs counter to the position of the IDF Central Command and intelligence officials, who believe that Evyatar should be evacuated immediately to avoid further tensions in the West Bank.

“This outpost must be evacuated, and it must happen as soon as possible,” one official said.

On Sunday afternoon, senior defense officials, among them Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, had convened to approve plans for evacuating the outpost in the coming days before learning of the deal. The deal’s terms have not yet been relayed to the defense establishment, and the Israel Defense Forces and the police remain prepared to evacuate the outpost.

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