Israel will carry out a court order to demolish the Jewish settlement of Amona in the West Bank by the end of the year, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Thursday.
However, a proposed plan to simply move the settlement to a nearby location has raised international concern.
“I have said before and I say again to the settlers of Amona, there is a judgment of the Supreme Court and we shall honor it,” Liberman said at a Jewish school in Susya in the southern West Bank on the first day of the new school year.
Amona, home to about 40 families, was built on lands privately owned by Palestinians, who successfully petitioned Israeli courts for the outpost’s removal.
After repeated delays, the Supreme Court ordered the settlers’ eviction and the demolition of their homes by December 25 this year.
Last month, Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said that Liberman’s Defense Ministry was working to transplant Amona residents to confiscated Palestinian land a few meters from the present site, effectively legalizing the rogue outpost.
“We proposed a lot of alternatives and I hope we can find an option that the Amona settlers will also accept,” Liberman said on Thursday.
The United States has said it is “deeply concerned” by the relocation plan.
“This would represent an unprecedented and troubling step that’s inconsistent with prior Israeli legal opinion and counter to longstanding Israeli policy to not seize private Palestinian land for Israeli settlements,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said last month.
Washington issued a fresh rebuke Wednesday over what it said was Israel’s accelerated settlement building, in the face of mounting international concern.
“This significant expansion of the settlement activity poses a serious and growing threat to the viability of a two-state solution,” uS President Barack Obama’s spokesman Josh Earnest said.
“We are particularly troubled by the policy of retroactively approving illegal outposts and unauthorized settlements,” Earnest added.
Liberman, a hard-liner who himself lives in a West Bank settlement, also said that just as he would obey court orders to tear down Amona he would do the same with regard to unauthorized Palestinian construction in Susya, a tiny Palestinian hamlet Israel says was put up without permission near the settlement where he was addressing schoolchildren Thursday. The Jewish settlement also uses the name Susya.
“I think that the world, especially the free world… needs to respect our judicial system and it cannot be that it demands one thing of the Amona settlers and something else regarding what happens in Susya,” he told the pupils, in recorded remarks distributed by his office.
He said that he had agreed to postpone demolition at Susya pending examination of alternatives for its approximately 300 residents.
“I was asked to come up with a plan and there will be a hearing in the Supreme Court,” he said.
“We agreed to postpone a decision on Susya for three months,” he added about the village. “There too we shall search for alternatives and solutions.”
The village has been torn down before and its homes are mainly tents, caves and makeshift structures, along with a children’s playground. The United States and European nations have urged Israel not to move ahead with the demolition.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN coordinator for the Middle East peace process, made specific mention of it in a report Monday to the Security Council.
“It is sandwiched between a settlement and an outpost,” he said. “The demolition of this community would set a dangerous precedent for displacement.”
Liberman told the students the village had recently become a focal point for criticism of Israel.
“The place has suddenly become a point of dispute,” Liberman said.
“The European Union, the US, I get messages from all over the world. “Everybody has discovered Susya,” he said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.