How Obama Became the Unlikely Ally of an Illegal West Bank Outpost

The state prosecutor is arguing that outposts can't be torn down as long as the delicate 'diplomatic discourse' is ongoing.

When President Barack Obama spoke in his recent speeches about the necessity of returning to the peace process, he certainly did not in the slightest imagine he was helping perpetuate the existence of an outpost in occupied territory.

A few days before the American president urged the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, the High Court of Justice received an official Israeli document determining that a diplomatic process overrides the evacuation of an outpost that has existed for years without a permit on private Palestinian land. High Court President Dorit Beinisch tried to stifle a chuckle upon reading the embarrassing excuse of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the Israel Defense Forces and the police for their refusal to set a date for the evacuation of Amona.

Amos Biderman
Amos Biderman

The Orwellian written notice, relayed by senior deputy State Prosecutor Hani Ofek, stated that "refraining from setting an evacuation date now is a result of the fact that the matter of construction in Judea and Samaria, as well as the demolition of illegal structures, are central issues in the diplomatic discourse of the State of Israel. Consequently the government of Israel is obligated to consider all relevant issues when moving to implement policy. Thus it appears that diplomatic considerations do also have an impact on priorities in enforcing the law in the region."

The "diplomatic discourse" is not alone in the fight to perpetuate land theft in the territories; the protesters in Tahrir Square and the opposition members in Libya and Syria are also sacrificing their lives for the sake of the settlers.

A High Court of Justice announcement stated that the diplomatic consideration takes on extra weight because "of the special sensitivity that exists at the present time in light of the changes underway in the region."

Yes, it is worth reading twice in order to believe that such a paper was created in the top ranks of the state prosecutor's office and was submitted to the highest judicial arbiter in Israel.

"What diplomatic discourse is even underway at this time," wondered attorney Michael Sfard, who is representing the petitioners from the left-wing Yesh Din organization.

The look of disbelief on Beinisch's face showed what she thinks of the peace process being drafted into the settlement movement's cause. It reminded her of the excuse that enforcing the freeze on new construction in the settlements does not leave resources available for the enforcement of old evacuation orders.

"This excuse was long ago used up," she noted and for a moment spurred hope in the hearts of the Palestinian landowners of getting a fair trial.

"There are people who died before the court provided them assistance," Sfard noted and added, "when will the stolen goods be returned to them - after they die?"

Over six years ago, attorney Talia Sasson wrote a report designating Amona as an illegal outpost which lies mostly on the private land of Palestinians. Ofek's notice also specifically stated that the outpost was built on private land, without a master plan and without obtaining building permits as required by law.

The discussions of the petitions to evacuate the outpost have been going on in the High Court since 2005. This is the first time that the state is linking the issue of the outposts to the diplomatic sphere. In the basic guidelines of the Sharon and Olmert governments, the matter of illegal construction in Judea and Samaria was mentioned intentionally in the general chapter discussing the obligation of law enforcement.

Following a well-covered visit by a group of ministers to outposts in northern Samaria in August 2009, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued an announcement whereby "the government's policy is based on the need to enforce the law in every place where it is violated."

A short time earlier, the defense minister's office reported that Defense Minister Barak said in a meeting with the leader of the Yesha Council of Settlements in Judea and Samaria, "we will evacuate illegal outposts. If it is not through dialogue, we will do it by swift and assertive enforcement."

On another occasion, his office noted in summer 2009 that "the defense minister has already agreed more than once, to the press, that the evacuation of the illegal outposts is our obligation as a democratic state," and they added that "this is a process that will take place within a number of weeks to months, and not years." Since then, not a single outpost has been evacuated.

Illegal structures in Beit El and Jabel Artis are to be evacuated in April 2012, and structures in Bnei Adam by the end of this year. The Palestinian land owners can only hope that by then "the diplomatic discourse" will be long gone.

But the court rejected the pleas of the petitioners to force the state to set a date for the evacuation of Amona. It would be interesting to see how the distinguished judges would have handled a request from Palestinians who had dared to establish an outpost without a permit to reject their evacuation based on the claim that this is "a central issue in the diplomatic discourse" and also "in light of the changes underway in the region."

There is no need to guess. A symbolic Palestinian outpost established by the residents of Bil'in under the cover of darkness on their land that was "annexed" to Matityahu East was dead on arrival.

The High Court of Justice accepted the State Prosecutor's request to allow the state to submit a "complementary response" in another six months so that the designation of a date for the evacuation of Amona (not the evacuation itself ) "will be done in a careful way while also taking into account a future attempt to avoid other evacuations."

Based on past history, these lines were noted and will be saved.