The residents of Amona rejected Wednesday night a deal that would have allowed them to receive a plot of land on the same hill as the current outpost with the possibility of creating a long-term settlement there, in return for leaving their homes peacefully in accordance with an impending court-imposed evacuation.
Following marathon talks that began on Tuesday morning, residents voted against a government plan 59-20.
Amona is the largest of about 100 unauthorized outposts — erected without permission but generally tolerated by the government — that dot the West Bank. In December 2014, after multiple appeals and delays, the court ordered that the outpost be evacuated within two years.
Following marathon talks that began on Tuesday morning, residents voted against a government plan, seen by the Times of Israel, that would have given them state permission to build houses on an area on land “next to” the current plot of Amona, with a guarantee that the State will explore turning the area into a permanent settlement.
Under the deal, the state would have agreed to set up 40 “mobile structures” on the plots of land next to the Amona outpost, which would be allowed to remain there for at least two years.
The plots in question are believed to mostly belong to “absentee” landlords, which in this case refers to Palestinians who left before or during Israel’s capture of the area in 1967 and whose identities are unknown. They are administered by the state’s Custodian of Absentee Properties, a legal status that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has suggested would make the temporary use of the lands less problematic under law.
During those two years, the state would have asked the Jerusalem Magistrate Court to fully recognize the plots of land as having “absentee” owners. If that were accomplished, the state would be able to turn the temporary outpost into a “long term settlement,” according to the deal.
The agreement outlined a five-week timeline for residents to be able to move to the land but also includes a clause saying that the state will provide temporary accommodation in the nearby Ofra settlement in the case that “there is a delay in the implementation.”
On their part, the residents had to sign a declaration, which Jewish home sources say is legally binding, that they would leave their homes peacefully, avoiding a repeat of the violence that followed the destruction of several buildings in the outpost in 2006.
“We the people of Amona accept — and we will let the court know — that this plan is acceptable for us and that we will leave the area of the settlement peacefully and without violence and we will not oppose the fulfillment of the court order, on the date the the political echelon will decide,” the rejected document read.
In addition, the state said it would ask the High Court of Justice for a 30-day delay of the evacuation, which currently has to be carried out by December 25, in order to prepare temporary housing solutions for the 40-odd families slated to be evicted during the demolition.
By including it in the agreement, the extension appeared to have been used as bargaining chip by the government, with the immediate threat of evacuation looming if the deal was not signed.
While government officials had signaled last week that they were considering requesting an extension, no such official request has yet been presented. A spokesman for the Justice Ministry told The Times of Israel on Monday that “political reasons” were holding back a final decision.
Jewish Home chair Naftali Bennett said Monday that a new plan had been formulated to move the residents to an adjacent plot of land on the same hill.
“After intense efforts and negotiations with the prime minister and the attorney general, we have succeeded in formulating a plan to keep Amona on the mountain,” Bennett told his Jewish Home Knesset faction meeting. “The new plan has longer prospects than the previous and even has potential for expansion in the future.”
The families that live in the outpost, the subject of some 15 years of legal wrangling, had been slated to be transferred to three plots of land, located just dozens of meters from the current site of the outpost, where they were to be allowed to stay for eight months while permanent alternatives were arranged. But that plan, conceived by Mandelblit, was reportedly taken off the table last week after the anti-settlement group Yesh Din lodged legal appeals against two of the three prospective future sites.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.