Amona residents take deal, avert forced evacuation
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Amona residents take deal, avert forced evacuation

Under revised agreement, state will provide immediate temporary housing on an adjacent plot for 24 of outpost's 40 families instead of 12

Families sit outside a home in the Jewish settlement of Amona in the West Bank, December 17, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Families sit outside a home in the Jewish settlement of Amona in the West Bank, December 17, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In a move likely to quell fears of a violent showdown between settlers and security forces, residents of Amona voted Sunday to evacuate their outpost peacefully, accepting a proposal from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that would see 24 families moved to an adjacent plot of land while the rest set up in nearby Ofra.

The state said earlier that it would request an extension for the evacuation notice — set for December 25 — which the High Court is likely to accept, in order to allow time for the implementation of the compromise deal.

The residents voted 45 in favor of the proposal, with 25 opposed and two abstentions. A few hours later, cabinet ministers embraced it in a unanimous vote.

The last-ditch effort to prevent the forced evacuation of Amona, presented Saturday night, was built on a previous proposal, rejected by the settlers last week, that would have seen only half as many families remain on the hilltop.

Under the agreement, presented by Netanyahu, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Yossi Dagan, head of the Shomron Regional Council, 24 of Amona’s 40 families would receive mobile homes on a plot just meters from the outpost — as opposed to the 12 in last week’s offer — while the remaining families would be given temporary residences in Ofra.

MK Bezalel Smotrich, who had taken up the cause of the Amona settlers in the Knesset, praised them for taking the deal and said their struggle brought hope for the future of the settlement enterprise.

“Today with their decision, the people of Amona are continuing on the path of hope. My brothers who are heroes of hope, thanks to you, the settlements will continue to grow and strengthen,” he said in a statement.

Likud MK Yehudah Glick also thanks them for their “respectful struggle,” “their ethical stand” and their “brave decision.”

MK Tamar Zandberg, of the left-wing Meretz party, criticized the deal, calling it a “capitulation” to the settlers. In seeking a deal, she said, the state had “danced to the tune of 40 families who have no qualms about trampling the Israeli interest and rule of law.”

The deal came as at least 1,000 people gathered in Amona in a show of support for the illegal outpost as the court-ordered deadline for its evacuation loomed.

An Israeli girl stands at the entrance to her home in the settlement of Amona in the West Bank, on December 17, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
An Israeli girl stands at the entrance to her home in the settlement of Amona in the West Bank, on December 17, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

One protester who had come to Amona to fight off the evacuation said he was unhappy with the decision. “I feel betrayed by the residents. They decided not to fight but to go against their interests. It’s against the Torah. It’s not the truth,” the protester, who declined to be named, said.

“The fight isn’t over,” said a spokesman from Ofra, the nearby settlement. “We’re taking our foot off the gas for a month. If in the next month the state lives up to its promise to build 52 houses and public structures, then the struggle will be crowned a success and Amona will stay on the hill. If the state doesn’t fulfill its promises, we won’t hesitate to renew the fight with more grit and more strength.”

As with the earlier, rejected proposal, the government promised to work toward a more permanent solution with the possibility of creating a settlement in the area, in exchange for a pledge by the residents that they would leave their homes peacefully, in compliance with the court order.

Now that an agreement has been accepted, the state will request a one-month postponement for the evacuation from the High Court of Justice. The court has denied a similar request before, but with the residents agreeing to the terms of the new proposal, “all the lawyers think the court will accept it,” Glick told The Times of Israel.

Although the final date for the evacuation was set just seven days from Sunday, the High Court is obligated to rule on an extension as long as it is presented before the December 25 deadline, according to a spokesperson for the court.

Netanyahu and Bennett did not meet directly with the Amona residents to present the deal; rather, Netanyahu’s aide Yoav Rabinovitch acted as a go-between with the settlers, Glick said.

“And then at about 12:30-1:00 [Saturday night], there was a meeting between Netanyahu, Bennett and Dagan, where they put together the whole thing in writing,” he said.

On Sunday morning, Avichai Boaron, the head of the campaign for the Amona residents, said the current deal was “much better” than the one previously presented

But “this deal also has risks and we will have to ask ourselves if we are willing to take that risk in order to move forward,” he told Army Radio.

MK Yehudah Glick at his swearing-in at the Knesset, May 25, 2016. (Knesset Spokesperson's Office)
MK Yehudah Glick at his swearing-in at the Knesset, May 25, 2016. (Knesset Spokesperson’s Office)

The original agreement outlined a five-week timeline for residents to move to the alternate plots but also included a clause saying that the state will provide temporary accommodation in the nearby Ofra settlement in the event that “there is a delay in the implementation.”

For their part, the residents would have to sign a declaration, which Jewish Home party sources said was legally binding, that they would leave their homes peacefully, avoiding a repeat of the violence that followed the destruction of several permanent buildings in the outpost in 2006.

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