High Court Rejects Gov't Petition: Israel Must Evacuate Illegal West Bank Outpost by Year's End

Under pressure from the right, Netanyahu asked the court to further delay the evacuation of Amona.

Settlers protest against the slated evacuation of Amona, an illegal West Bank outpost, in front of the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, November 11, 2016.
Emil Salman

The High Court of Justice on Monday rejected a state petition to postpone the deadline for the evacuation of the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona.

"We see that any time-frame specified, however long, is not enough," Justices Miriam Naor, Esther Hayut and Hanan Melcer said in their ruling.

"The obligation to honor court rulings is not a matter of choice. It is essential to government by law to which everyone is subject, as part of the values of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."

The court set December 25 as the deadline for the evacuation of Amona during a December 2014 sitting. Prior to that, it had delayed its decision several times.

In response to the court's ruling Attorney General Avishai Mendelblit said that the state has no alternative but to accept it.

“When the High Court rules with regard to a specific instance in which the state is required to demolish illegal construction on regularized private land, the state must act to fulfill the judgment verbatim." Mendelblit said. 

Under pressure from the right wing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed with ministers Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Avigdor Lieberman last month that the state would request a six-month postponement of the evacuation.

On Sunday, a ministerial panel unanimously approved a bill that would retroactively legalize unauthorized Israeli outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially opposed the bill after Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said it contradicted international law and could not be defended before the High Court.

In its ruling on Monday, the High Court referred to the decision by the ministerial panel, saying that it was refraining from making any reference to the proposed bill. "Our decision has not been influenced by that issue," it said.

The court explicitly criticized the conduct of the state in its ruling on Monday. "In the case before us, as well as in previous instances, they asked at 'the last minute' to extend the date of evacuation as set in a court ruling," it stated. "We need to ensure that a date set in a court ruling doesn't turn into a recommendation."

The judges also said that the state's request, which "relies primarily on considerations that were considered in the original application, effectively represents an attempt to alter its balance. That is unacceptable."

They warned that failure to implement the ruling that [Amona] must be evacuated within the next six weeks would have repercussions. "The message [of such failure] would be that it is possible to avoid implementing court rulings due to the state's concern about threats and violence," they said.

"That is a message that cannot be acceptable in a state of laws."

Court President Naor, who wrote the decision, said that "from the material before us it emerges that the feasibility of a peaceful evacuation is in doubt, to put it mildly. According to the declarations of most of the residents of Amona the majority is strongly opposed to the principle alternative proposed by the state That opposition pulls the rug out from under the state's request for a delay in the evacuation in order to prepare [the alternative site.]

Yesh Din, the human rights NGO representing the Palestinian petitioners on whose land Amona was built, said in response to the ruling that the High Court had "clarified perfectly that the state is looking for last-minute excuses in order to evade carrying out a court ruling.

"The court did well in rejecting the petition, which had nothing behind it except the prosecution's capitulation to political pressures." The state, it continued, would do well to process the court\s statement that "the obligation to honor court rulings is not a matter of choice. It is essential to government by law."

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin responded that the judges had "once again turned a cold shoulder to settlement." The court, he added, had proved that the preservation of human rights, "a holy principle for the judges, does not hold when it comes to the residents of Amona."

Now more than ever, Levin said, "we need to deal with changing the legal system as a matter of the highest priority."

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev expressed disappointment at the High Court’s ruling. “I’m saddened by the court’s decision. It’s a cold decision that’s detached from the public and from the complex situation,” she said. “I didn’t see a similar approach to tens of thousands of illegal homes in the Negev, the Galilee and Wadi Ara.

“The date the court is insisting upon is the first day of Hanukkah, a holiday that symbolizes Jewish independence, particular in these regions. I believe that we will finish legislating the regulation law [legalizing settlement on private Palestinian land] within the next two weeks and that Amona residents will light the Hanukkah lights in their homes.”

Deputy Knesset Speaker Yoel Hasson, (Zionist Union) said that the government was "mistreating both the rule of law and the residents of Amona by raising unrealizable hopes of change in the court's decision."

It was time "to end the fiasco and evacuate Amona now as required by the decision of the High Court," he stated.