Opinion |

Legalizing the Illegal Pretense of Evyatar

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
An aerial view of the Evyatar settlement in July, 2021.
An aerial view of the Evyatar settlement in July, 2021.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The blankets and tents were readied in advance. The message calling on thousands of supporters to come to “the goodly hill country” (a Biblical term for the Samarian Hills) was also sent out in good time, in order to forestall the evil.

But in the end, the magic formula was found and war was prevented. Residents of the illegal settlement outpost of Evyatar agreed to adopt the plan that Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked proposed, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s blessing, and temporarily leave the West Bank land they had taken over.

According to this plan, which was signed in July, the homes wouldn’t be destroyed and the state would look into the land’s status. If it turned out that some or all of it was “state land,” a yeshiva would be built there, and later, the outpost would be legalized, the way all the settlers’ construction crimes are legalized.

The land’s status was duly examined, and in October, government officials concluded that 60 dunams of it was state land. So it’s possible to build the yeshiva, and then to begin the process of legitimizing the illegitimate – a process approved by then-Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit a moment before his term ended.

Granted, agreements ought to be kept, but not agreements that stemmed from a crime and were achieved by duress. The Evyatar plan was approved when the government was still in its infancy, and a conflict with the settlers could have halted its incubation process and destroyed the change it sought to foment.

Yet even so, some ministers, including Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid, refused to sign off on the deal, since they opposed it. Defense officials didn’t even know about the broth being cooked up behind their backs and quickly warned of anticipated unrest in the West Bank if the outpost weren’t removed immediately after its establishment. The United States added its own threats. But who are all of the above compared to an Israeli flag waving over another rocky hilltop?

At first glance, whether Evyatar will be rebuilt isn’t very important. After all, there are more than 140 similar “appropriate Zionist responses” in the West Bank. And the fact that it was built without a permit, combined with the warped deal that was concluded, actually foiled the effort to delude people that this whitewashing process was legal and legitimate.

Over the years, Israel has created a pretense that settlements whose establishment was approved by the government and that are located on state land are legal settlements. Evyatar doesn’t meet even these lenient criteria, which flout international law. It wasn’t approved by the government, and back when it was illegally built, nobody knew the land’s status.

Therefore, the “agreement” between the Evyatar settlers and some cabinet ministers resembles the grace period that mafia debt collectors give businesses. They’ll leave the owners alone for a certain amount of time, but during that time, the owner must transfer ownership to them.

The owner’s only choice is whether to do things the easy way – signing the document transferring ownership and providing them with services, security, electricity and water – or the hard way, which involves sending in the army, violent clashes and the governing coalition’s collapse. Either way, the stony ground will be theirs, and they’ll be able to raise stony children there.

The government predictably chose the easy way and opened a legal smuggling route for the settlers. And just like it hasn’t allowed Palestinians to return to their land at the razed settlement of Homesh despite a High Court of Justice ruling, even allowing a yeshiva to operate there in defiance of the Disengagement Law mandating the settlement’s removal, so too will the Palestinians be denied access to the land they own around Evyatar.

In response to the petition demanding the removal of the Homesh yeshiva, the state responded with a hysterically funny joke. There are no grounds for judicial intervention in the Homesh issue, it argued, because the state itself is “working diligently to enforce the law.”

When the court heard the Homesh case in October, Justice Uzi Vogelman warned that the ongoing failure to address the violation of the law “may result in the collapse of the state’s authority.” Apparently, he also wanted to make a joke. After all, the state’s authority hasn’t existed in decades – it was transferred to the Land Theft Authority.

The outcome will be the same for both Homesh and Evyatar. What isn’t given to the settlers won’t remain in the hands of the land’s legal owners, and what’s illegal will become legal.

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