A day before the government is set to decide what to do about Amona, residents of the outpost said in a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that they would not cooperate in any of the plans he had for them – including agreeing to move after an additional delay by the High Court, should it be granted, or moving to another site Netanyahu has said would be built for them.
The residents, who may be called to testify when the state presents its arguments for a delay at the High Court, will tell judges they aren’t interested in any solution other than to remain where they are. The government is set to ask for a six-month delay in the evacuation of the site, which the court has ordered to take place in the coming months.
In a letter to Netanyahu Wednesday, MK Shuli Muallem-Refaeli slammed the government’s efforts on Amona, saying that officials were “dragging their feet as the sands of the hourglass allocated to legalizing the site run out. We are reaching the critical moment that will determine the final fate of Amona. But we see that little has been done in these recent critical weeks.”
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 protestors 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 an 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 nearby 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.
Among the ideas that have been touted is a law to legalize Amona and other outposts retroactively. Members of the Jewish Home party, most prominent among them Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, have threatened to leave the government unless such a law is approved. MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) said that he and other Jewish Home MKs would vote against the passage of the state budget without the overall legalization law. “Governments are supposed to pass legislation that advance its interests, and we must pass legislation to advance settlement,” said Smotrich. In the case of Amona, that means passing a law to preserve the community in its current location and in its current form, he said.