State Mulls Relocating West Bank Outpost to Land Set Aside for IDF

Move would seem to contravene an existing High Court of Justice ruling banning the seizure of land for the establishment of settlements.

The defense establishment has proposed that residents of Beit El's Ulpana neighborhood - which the High Court ordered evacuated by July 1 - be relocated to a nearby tract of land appropriated years ago for a military base.

Such a move would seem to contravene an existing High Court of Justice ruling banning the seizure of land for the establishment of settlements.

The government is searching frantically for a solution for the Ulpana neighborhood, after the High Court's recent ruling that it was built on private Palestinian land and must be evacuated in a month.

Right-wing MKs told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that unless he finds a way to prevent the demolition of the neighborhood, the Knesset will vote on a law to bypass the High Court ruling.

Netanyahu is now working on a package to persuade the settlers to move voluntarily to a temporary camp.

Civil Administration officials this week examined the idea of building the temporary camp on 11 dunams of state land appropriated in 1970 for the purpose of setting up a military base. At one time the base in Beit El accommodated thousands of soldiers, but was eventually evacuated. Today the Judea and Samaria Division, the Civil Administration and regional Border Police are based in the area.

In 1979 the High Court of Justice ruled lands may not be seized in order to build settlements on them. However, since these state lands were appropriated before the court ruling the proposal may be acceptable, defense establishment sources said.

Members of the Civil Administration's planning council in charge of West Bank construction matters were summoned for an urgent meeting on Thursday to examine the possibility of building a temporary base on the appropriated area. The Civil Administration came to no decision, saying the proposal required further study.

However, the Beit El settlers have said they would refuse to negotiate their evacuation and that it was up to the government to find a solution to their plight.

On Monday the settlers plan to start a protest march from Beit El to Jerusalem. The procession is scheduled to arrive at the Knesset on Wednesday, in time for the vote on the bill to bypass the court ruling and legitimize the Ulpana neighborhood.

Meanwhile, government officials have asked the settlers from the evacuated Gaza Strip settlements to wait a little longer for their new mobile homes, because it needs the homes urgently for the settlers of Migron and Ulpana.

Some 40 families from former Gaza settlements were supposed to move into new mobile homes until their permanent homes are completed.

Right-wing politicians and activists were furious when they heard of these plans, because Netanyahu had agreed to freeze all the activity to resettle the Migron and Ulpana residents in exchange for the rightist MKs' putting off the Knesset vote.

"This is a blatant violation of the agreement to suspend the preparations for the demolition," said MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud ). "If the government isn't keeping its commitments, I don't intend to toe the coalition line," she said.

Dror Etkes, a left-wing activist who follows the settlements issue, said in response: "The story of the Beit El settlement that was built on private land that was taken for military purposes shows the roots of the original sin behind the construction of all the settlements in the 1970s that were built in this way. As time passes, it becomes clearer that the legal argument that is based on the idea that settlement construction is 'temporary' and serves 'security purposes' was, and remains, fundamentally absurd."

"The hundreds of dunams in the military compound of Beit El that the army actually abandoned years ago must be returned to their rightful owners living in the city of al-Bireh, next to Beit El. There is no legal or ethical justification to pass these lands to the settlers of Ulpana, whose houses are built on private land belonging to other Palestinians," he added.   

Beit El’s Ulpana neighborhood.
Olivier Fitoussi