At a meeting with Likud members last week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned that Israel needed to be “very cautious” over the next several months, during the twilight of President Barack Obama’s term in office. The wrong move, Netanyahu said was “liable to endanger Israel’s presence in Yehudah and Shomron altogether.” Chief among the concerns that Obama could “turn” on Israel after the presidential election in three weeks is that the U.S. would support, or at least not veto, a U.N. Security Council resolution that condemns Israel’s presence in Yehudah and Shomron.
Netanyahu was referring to the debate over the future of Amona. Among the members of the audience were residents and representatives of Amona, as well as of the mountain towns of Ofra, Eli and Beit El – towns that are outside the security fence. The meeting took place last Thursday, with the protocols of the meeting revealed on Wednesday by Channel Two.
The fate of Amona has been much debated in recent weeks, after the High Court ruled that it would accept no more delays on the demolition of homes that Palestinians claim were built on land they own. The Amona saga goes back to 2006, when the High Court ruled that the outpost located in the Binyamin region was built on land claimed by Palestinian families. In February of that year, police and officials of the Civil Administration evacuated and razed nine buildings, facing down 4,000 Israeli protesters in a traumatic operation that saw dozens of people, including three MKs, injured.
Since then, the state has sought ways to prevent further demolitions, although various Defense Ministers have insisted that the remaining homes on the site will be demolished. The original settlers of Amona claim that the land was purchased from Palestinians, a claim disputed by Peace Now, which organized a petition of the claimants to demolish the homes.
The High Court had previously ruled that houses built on land claimed by Palestinians, even if those claims are unsubstantiated, must be demolished and cannot be rebuilt for as long as a decade, as evidence is gathered regarding ownership. The court in 2014 reaffirmed its earlier ruling and insisted that all the buildings on the site be demolished.
Residents of Amona and leaders of the right have deplored the decision, with several threatening to undo Netanyahu’s fragile coalition if he attempted to remove the residents from their home. As an alternative, the government recently authorized the construction of homes at the outpost of Shvut Rachel outside Shilo, in the Binyamin region, as substitutes for the Amona homes to be demolished. This led to unusually harshly-worded condemnation by the State Department, which said that it “strongly condemns the Israeli government’s recent decision to advance a plan that would create a significant new settlement deep in the West Bank.”
The new neighborhood would “further damage the prospects for a two-state solution.” the statement said. “The retroactive authorization of near-by illegal outposts, or redrawing of local settlement boundaries, does not change the fact that this approval contradicts previous public statements by the government of Israel that it had no intention of creating new settlements. Such moves will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from many of its partners and further call into question Israel’s commitment to achieving a negotiated peace,” the statement said.
Several of those attending told Channel Two that Obama, whose lame duck status after the election would allow him to undertake any policy he wanted regarding Israel – and allow him to act upon his previous criticisms of Israeli settlement policy – was “an existential danger” to Israel. In a statement, Netanyahu’s office denied that those words were used, but said that in the past, there were presidents whose lame duck actions “did not coincide with Israel’s interests. The Prime Minister at the meeting stressed that he hoped that this would not repeat itself, and that he expected that the U.S. would not change its decades-old policy of preventing anti-Israel resolutions from being passed by the United Nations Security Council.”