Under Right-wing Pressure, Netanyahu to Ask Court for Further Delay in Evacuating West Bank Outpost

Far-right Minister Naftali Bennett pressures Netanyahu for a six-month delay. The High Court has already postponed the demolition of Amona several times.

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Residents of Amona and Ofra demonstrating against house demolitions at the settlements, September 2016.
Residents of Amona and Ofra demonstrating against house demolitions at the settlements, September 2016. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The state will ask the High Court of Justice for a six-month delay in evacuating the illegal West Bank outpost Amona, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Habayit Hayehudi leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked agreed in a meeting Thursday.

The meeting, also attended by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, was held after Education Minister Bennett threatened Netanyahu overnight that his party might cause a crisis for the governing coalition if the state did not petition the court for a delay.

The High Court has already given the state two years to arrange Amona’s evacuation. Over the past six months, the Defense Ministry and the attorney general were supposed to come up with a solution that would allow the outpost’s demolition.

On Monday, Bennett had asked Netanyahu for an urgent meeting, which was held on Wednesday after Yom Kippur ended. In the meeting, Bennett asked Netanyahu to be more involved in finding a solution for Amona's residents. In a meeting Thursday attended by Netanyahu, Bennett, Shaked and officials from the defense and other ministries, it was agreed to petition for a delay.

After delaying the evacuation of Amona a number of times, the High Court ruled that it must be demolished by December 25.

On Thursday, Mendelblit suggested a relocation of Amona residents to alleged absentee property nearby, but a source at the Justice Ministry told Haaretz that the attorney general’s position was an “international mistake, unrealistic and not feasible.”

A senior official in Jerusalem said that Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Mendelblit were "shocked to hear Bennett briefing" that he pressured them into requesting a stay of execution. The decision to petition the court was reached a few days ago, he said. "Bennett is again using his method of taking credit for pre-determined decisions." The decision to petition the court was reached as part of an effort "to reach a solution without resorting to violence," he said, adding that the "unnecessary talk around Amona only harms the process."

A Habayit Hayehudi source said the goal was to let Amona stay on the same hilltop but not at its current location. He declined to give details, and Amona residents say that when Bennett spoke with them earlier this week, he would not elaborate on the proposal.

Habayit Hayehudi sources say one option is an Economic Arrangements Bill that would enable the appropriation of private Palestinian land. Still, such a law would probably be struck down by the High Court, and the attorney general has already called such a bill unconstitutional.

On Monday, Bennett and Shaked met separately with residents of Amona and the settlement of Ofra to discuss the planned demolitions there. Nine homes in Ofra are slated for demolition in February.

The meeting was scheduled because it had become clear that the absentee-property variant had low chances of success. This plan would make it possible to move Amona to adjacent plots of land.

But Palestinians from nearby villages have presented the Civil Administration with documents they say prove their ownership of the vast majority of the land. Even some advocates of the plan now admit it cannot be implemented if the Palestinians’ claims are solid.

According to a person at Bennett’s meeting with Ofra residents, the minister said that he could not prevent the demolition of the homes because of the High Court ruling, and that Shaked agreed. Nor would either minister promise to break up the coalition if the demolition proceeded. Local people allegedly reacted with despair.

Also, earlier this week, the Civil Administration received an objection regarding another plot of land, further reducing the area where the Civil Administration had hoped to build at least temporary housing.

MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union), a former justice minister, criticized the government's move. “As usual, the government decides not to decide on Amona – sending the ball back to the High Court. Later they will complain and attack the court,” she said.

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