Ministers Set to Discuss Legalization of Israeli Outposts in West Bank

With deadline for Amona evacuation drawing near, Ministerial Committee for Legislation will discuss and possibly vote on bill deemed unconstitutional by attorney general.

Amona, an unauthorized Israeli outpost in the West Bank, east of the Palestinian town of Ramallah. Under an Israeli Supreme Court order, the government must tear down the outpost by the end of 2016. May 18, 2016 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Oded Balilty, AP

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation will hold a discussion Sunday on a bill to legalize West Bank settlement outposts, including the current hot potato of Amona, even though the attorney general said that the bill is unconstitutional.

The High Court of Justice has ordered Amona evacuated by December 25, and some members of the ruling coalition have threatened a coalition crisis if the evacuation takes place.

People close to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who chairs the committee, said she intends to hold a vote on the bill at Sunday’s meeting. But they also noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might postpone the vote.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has said that the bill is unconstitutional and wouldn’t withstand a High Court challenge. Last week, Shaked said that it is not the role of the attorney general to make decisions on legislative issues. “A civil servant, as senior as they may be, has no veto” over legislation, said Shaked. Shaked said decisions on legislative issues should be made by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, which she heads. 

Sometime in the next few days, the state plans to ask the court to extend the deadline for evacuating Amona's 40 families. Earlier this month, Netanyahu agreed to a request by the heads of two coalition parties, Naftali Bennett of Habayit Hayehudi and Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, that the government seek a six-month extension. 

The fact that the request hasn’t yet been submitted has caused some grumbling within the coalition. Coalition sources said it should have been done well before now, so that the court would have ruled one way or the other before the Knesset reconvenes for its winter session on Monday. 

The delay stems from the difficulty of coming up with reasonable grounds for seeking the extension. Whatever justification is ultimately used, the court is considered unlikely to grant the request.

According to one source involved in the issue, a government official told Amona residents last week that the state plans to say it needs the extra time to prepare alternative housing for the families. The state has proposed relocating them to a site near another settlement in the area, Shvut Rachel. 

But the residents said they have no intention of leaving their hilltop, and told the official they would say as much in court if the state tried using this excuse. That makes it highly unlikely the court would consent to an extension on those grounds.

Last week, the residents sent a letter to Netanyahu reiterating this stance. “No talks have ever been held with us over the Shvut Rachel solution, and we never consented to have any representative of the settlement movement discuss this in our names,” they wrote. 

But Shaked’s office denied that the delay in submitting the request has anything to do with the residents’ threat to tell the court that they refuse to relocate to Shvut Rachel.