Amona residents renew protest as relocation deal falters
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Amona residents renew protest as relocation deal falters

West Bank settlers say Netanyahu, Bennett ‘betrayed us’ with compromise, claim they are no longer bound by agreement

Young Jewish settlers react to the news that the residents of the illegal outpost of Amona had accepted a government proposal to peacefully evacuate the outpost and move to a nearby location on December 18, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Young Jewish settlers react to the news that the residents of the illegal outpost of Amona had accepted a government proposal to peacefully evacuate the outpost and move to a nearby location on December 18, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Residents of the illegal outpost of Amona, who last month signed a deal with the government to voluntarily leave their homes, said Sunday night they are now no longer bound by the agreement and called on their supporters to oppose the evacuation early next month.

In a statement, the residents accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennet of the right-wing Jewish Home party of making promises they never intended to keep.

The High Court of Justice has repeatedly ruled that Amona was built on private Palestinian land, and in a final ruling in 2014, ordered the government to evacuate and demolish the hilltop community by December 25, 2016.

But under fierce pressure from settlers and their Knesset supporters, the government in late December secured a 45-day extension from the court until February 8, after reaching an agreement with Amona residents that would see 24 of the outpost’s 41 families moved to an adjacent plot of land on the same hilltop, while the rest would relocate to the nearby settlement of Ofra.

That extension was obtained after the residents pledged to the court they would not resist the final evacuation. But the relocation plan was reportedly stalled after a Palestinian landowner claimed ownership of the designated plot.

“Bennett, Netanyahu,” they posted on Facebook on Sunday. “We, the residents of Amona, feel that you have deceived us and the entire community, particularly the right-wing and the nationalist camp.

“We tell you bluntly that we feel we have been deceived, or even betrayed, and we hold you personally responsible for this situation, for this farce.”

View of caravan houses in the illegal outpost of Amona on January 16, 2017. (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)
View of caravan houses in the illegal outpost of Amona on January 16, 2017. (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)

In a letter sent to Netanyahu and Bennett, the residents complained that no construction work had begun on the nearby hilltop.

“On December 17, a deal was signed between the residents of Amona and the leadership of the government of Israel,” they wrote. “Meanwhile, 34 days have elapsed since we signed the deal, there are only two weeks left until the court-ordered evacuation and the destruction of the Amona settlement. Absolutely nothing has been done. Not a single tractor on the ground to prepare the area, as you promised in the agreement between us.”

The residents said they are no longer bound by the deal to leave the outpost voluntarily.

“As things stand, we have no option but to renew the public struggle in full force and to call on our thousands of supporters to come quickly to Amona,” the residents wrote on Facebook.”To do everything we can to prevent the expected evacuation.”

The residents also rejected any further negotiations. “The only thing now, that can prevent the consequences of conflict that you alone, and the political leadership, are responsible for, is to enact the Regulation Bill [to retroactively legalize the illegal outposts] and include Amona in it,” they said. The residents were referring to proposed legislation which passed in its first Knesset reading but has since been shelved, that would legalize some West Bank outpost construction. The law cannot be applied retroactively to Amona, according to legal experts and the attorney general.

Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu’s chief of staff reportedly informed Likud ministers that the compromise deal struck between the government and the residents of Amona would be impossible to implement.

“Right now, there is no option for the remaining residents to stay on the hilltop because the plan was met with opposition by the absentee owners of that property,” Horowitz said.

Residents described this plot of land as the cornerstone of the entire agreement.

Before approving the extension, the court sought and received a signed pledge by residents that they would leave the site peacefully in February, issuing a statement clarifying that they “agree and commit unanimously to a peaceful eviction without conflict or resistance.”

Two weeks ago, the residents wrote complaining that the government had reneged on the terms of the deal.

At the time, they questioned whether the government had ever intended to stick to their side of the bargain.

“Deals must be honored,” they wrote. “We are warning you — 32 days before the date set by the High Court — to carry out your responsibility.”

Authorities were hoping the compromise deal could prevent a repeat of the violence that followed the destruction of several permanent buildings in the outpost in 2006, when the court similarly ruled that buildings were built on private Palestinian land.

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