A day after it was celebrated by MKs on the right, the deal to relocate Amona residents to an undisputed area of the hilltop appeared threatened Tuesday night. However, a source told Channel Two that Palestinians are claiming ownership of the 15 dunams on which caravans are being set up to temporarily house the residents who are to be evicted from their homes in two weeks, and are set to file a claim with the High Court.
As a result, the deal that saw Jewish Home propose an amended version of the Settlements Arrangement Law without a section specifically designed to prevent the evacuation and demolition of homes on land claimed by Arabs in Amona is in jeopardy. In the wake of the report, Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich said that if the land that is administered by the state under the Absentee Property Law cannot be set aside for the Amona residents, Jewish Home will rescind its amended bill and resubmit the original version, that, if passed by the Knesset, would outmaneuver the High Court order to demolish the Amona homes, leading to a major coalition crisis.
The High Court has ordered the demolition of the Amona homes, built on land claimed by Palestinians, by December 25. In an effort to avoid a showdown with Jewish Home and many Likud MKs who oppose the demolitions, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu worked out a deal with Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett to move the residents of those homes to another parcel on the Amona hilltop that is being administered by the IDF under the Absentee Property Law, in which the government takes over administration of parcels of land whose owners are not interested in or capable of taking legal action to prevent use of their assets. The residents would live there for several months, until new homes in a neighborhood of Shilo are ready for them.
As part of the deal, Jewish Home agreed to file a version of the Settlements Arrangement Bill that would not extend protection to Amona. The Settlements Arrangement Law would replace the process now governing Arab claims of ownership of land on which Israeli homes are built. Currently, such claims are adjudicated by the High Court but the bill would instead institute a special arbitration process that would, among other things, advocate land swaps that would replace the land claimed by Palestinians with state land of equal or greater value that is not in dispute. The law is designed to prevent the demolition of homes at outposts and settlements that were built in good faith, but later were discovered to be built on private land. The law passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset Monday night, but with the removal of the controversial section, it will not apply to Amona or any other site that the High Court has ruled on in the past.
But with the purported owners of those 15 dunams on the Amona hilltop that are key to the deal set to file a petition with the High Court, the entire deal could be in jeopardy, Channel Two reported. If Jewish Home refiles the bill with the section pertaining to areas like Amona that have been ruled on by the Court, seeking to grandfather them into the Settlements Arrangement Law, Kulanu is likely to vote against it, meaning that it will not pass into law — and that would likely lead to a coalition crisis, with Jewish Home possibly resigning from the government, but not before it brought the government down by voting with the opposition against the budget.
Meanwhile, Amona residents continued to maintain that they would not leave their homes. In a statement Monday, the Amona Residents Committee said, “We will not bow to the will of the far left to destroy a flourishing settlement, to evict 200 children from their homes, and to call it ‘a good deal,’” as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett have termed the transfer of residents to the adjacent parcels of land. “True leadership is tested at the moment of truth, and for hundreds of thousands of people Amona is the true test and symbol of the struggle for the Land of Israel. He who surrenders on Amona surrenders on Ofra, Beit El, Chevron, and the future of Jewish settlement in Yehudah and Shomron altogether.”
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. Netanyahu has been very anxious to avoid a repeat of those scenes during his administration.