State to Migron Settlers: This Is Your Last Chance to Accept Compromise

Warning comes as residents object to clause of outpost relocation plan.

The state is giving Migron residents their last chance to move the West Bank outpost to a new site, Minister Benny Begin said yesterday.

Begin, who represents the government in talks with the residents, said at a press conference that Migron will be evacuated and dismantled by March 31 if the settlers don't accept the latest agreement aimed at avoiding a violent confrontation and giving the residents another place to live.

Emil Salman

Migron residents were meeting late last night to decide whether to accept the draft agreement with the state, under which they would leave the illegal outpost, which is built on land registered to Palestinian owners, and rebuild it on nearby state land.

By order of the High Court of Justice, Migron, which is home to some 50 families, is to be evacuated and dismantled by March 31. The High Court must approve the deal, under which the evacuation of the current site would be postponed, before it can be implemented.

But the agreement, which was reached after 13 drafts, has yet to be signed because residents oppose a clause calling for the demolition of all structures on the outpost. At a meeting several Migron residents held Sunday night with Rabbi Zvi Tau, their spiritual mentor, Tau told them to object to any deal that would see the buildings demolished.

The settlers want the agreement to state that the fate of the structures will be decided by the law.

This demand apparently reflects the residents' belief that in the years it could take for their permanent homes to be built, new information may emerge, or there may be new legislation that would allow continued use of the structures.

Peace Now, one of the petitioners asking the High Court to order the evacuation, said it would fight tooth and nail to prevent any more delays.

"We will object in court to any request for delaying the evacuation of the outpost," the group said in a statement. "The moment of truth for the Israeli government is March 31, and it must honor the ruling and evacuate the outpost by that date. Legally, the Migron issue has been resolved." Under the draft agreement, which was approved by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein last week, the state will ask the High Court of Justice for permission to postpone the evacuation. The community will be moved to the new location, which is currently zoned for tourist facilities. The building plans will be changed to allow residential construction. After that, Migron residents will be allowed to build permanent homes at their own expense.

The new construction will be designated a neighborhood of Kochav Yaakov, a large settlement a few kilometers away, so as to avoid the diplomatic ramifications of creating a new settlement. The entire process is meant to be completed by November 2015.

Begin's proposal to move the outpost to Winery Hill, about two kilometers away, was reported by Haaretz in early January. On February 1, the settlers proposed their version of the agreement and sent it to Begin, the state prosecution and attorney Jacob Weinroth, who is representing the settlers.

The draft agreement states clearly that the Civil Administration planners, who are responsible for planning in the West Bank, anticipate difficulties in building homes there. As a result, the prosecution circumvented the Civil Administration and went to Binat Schwartz, the head of the Interior Ministry's planning administration (who actually has no authority in the West Bank ), and she determined that housing could be built on the site.

As for the current Migron structures, the settlers are working on two tracks. They have appealed to the Jerusalem District Court to get at least some of the land, which they claim to have purchased, registered in their names. At the same time, they are arguing that the land is "abandoned land" whose owners have left.

The draft agreement calls for the removal of the mobile homes currently on the site, after which the state will "consider favorably" proposals to use the area for public facilities, such as an educational institute or a horse ranch.

By law, "abandoned lands" can be appropriated for temporary use, but cannot be used for settlement.

Meanwhile, there is pending legislation, sponsored by MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi ) that would allow outposts built on Palestinian land to be legalized by compensating the owners with either money or land.

A vote on the bill had been delayed at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to allow the Migron negotiations to proceed. If the agreement is not signed by tomorrow, the bill will be submitted for a first reading.

Even if the agreement is signed, there will be several obstacles to implementing it.

The High Court must approve the deal before any further steps can be taken. Beyond that, Civil Administration objections to building at the designated site could slow down the planning process, and the topography of the area might make construction expensive and time-consuming.