Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented his plan for the relocation of the residents of the illegal Ulpana neighborhood in the West Bank’s Beit El settlement during the weekly Sunday morning cabinet meeting.
Netanyahu presented a three-stage plan to the ministers which would move the buildings in question several hundred meters away, reinforce existing settlements by adding homes to them, and eliminate the possibility of future legal challenges. The plan is still pending approval by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.
“This addresses the legal concerns, the residents’ needs, Beit El’s needs, and also any attempt to use the law inappropriately. We will wait patiently for an answer from the attorney general in order to make an educated decision,” said the prime minister.
His proposition would involve first dismantling the homes in the Ulpana neighborhood and reconstructing them on a nearby site in a legal part of Beit El. The second stage would add 10 houses to existing settlements for each house moved, which would add about 1,000 settlers to the West Bank. The final stage would prevent anybody from bringing a legal challenge to those buildings in the future.
MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) warned Sunday morning that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to evacuate the buildings in the Ulpana neighborhood of the Beit El settlement would likely lead to a serious showdown within the ruling coalition.
Elkin, the coalition chairman, told Ynet: “It is clear that there will be a coalition crisis around this vote… It will be a traumatic event and will have serious ramifications on the political arena.”
Dozens of demonstrators converged on the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday to protest his decision to evacuate the neighborhood, calling on government ministers to vote in favor of a West Bank “regulatory law” which would bypass the Supreme Court order to demolish the illegal Ulpana structures.
Last week the prime minister managed to block Knesset discussion of two bills featuring this regulatory law, submitted by MKs Yaakov Katz (National Union) and Zevulun Orlev (Jewish Home), although a new vote is scheduled on Orlev’s bill on Wednesday.
Netanyahu told Likud ministers on Sunday that “our policy is to bolster the settlements, while adhering to the law,” emphasizing that the state must respect the rule of law under all circumstances.
On Saturday Netanyahu said that he planned to comply with a High Court ruling ordering that five buildings in the neighborhood be razed this summer. This decision has drawn flak from right-wing politicians, including from within his own Likud Party. In place of the outpost buildings, Netanyahu said, residents would moved within Beit El, and “10 homes would be built in the settlements for each one torn down.”
Residents of the Ulpana neighborhood released a statement Sunday, saying: “The decision does not affect only the houses in the [Ulpana] neighborhood, but rather thousands of buildings in Judea and Samaria, which, if their legal status is not resolved, could be liable for the same.”
Didi Dickstein, the chairman of the residents’ committee of Ulpana, told Army Radio on Sunday morning, “We feel that we have been done a great injustice. We are going to be thrown out of our homes. Nobody thinks that this solution is viable. Our legal status is the same as thousands of homes in Judea and Samaria.”
Minister Michael Eitan (Likud), stood by Netanyahu, telling Ynet: “The prime minister and the government don’t want to hurt the settlements and the settlers, but they must abide by the High Court’s ruling and preserve the rule of law.” He explained that the regulatory law is detrimental to Israeli interests, and would likely be deemed illegal. Eitan told Israel Radio that he feared that the proposed regulatory law could “isolate Israel on the international stage, because those opposed to it will say that it reeks of apartheid.”
The regulatory law bill would give Palestinian landowners four years from the date an outpost is built to present land ownership documents to a court. If they do not present the papers within that window of time, the bill states, the outpost cannot be evacuated.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Saturday night that if a “solution” was not found for the five apartment buildings in the neighborhood, he would support demolishing them
MK Dan Meridor (Likud) also told Army Radio on Sunday that he supported the prime minister’s plan, saying: “”The idea that the government will clash with the court is no longer relevant.” Meridor also said, however, that he supports any measures which would strengthen the settlement enterprise.
Meanwhile, right-wing parliamentarians warned that Netanyahu’s plan would not only lead to a collapse of the coalition, but to the destruction of more homes throughout the West Bank.
National Union MK Ya’akov Katz called the decision the start of a domino effect that would mean destroying 9,000 homes with similar status, and warned that his constituents need to prepare for a battle to defend all the settlements in the West Bank.
Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Jewish Home) said before Sunday’s Cabinet meeting: “I fear a deluge of petitions to the High Court because Givat Ulpana is not the only case in which Jewish construction is disputed. The only to stop it is through appropriate legislation.”
However, Orit Zuaretz (Kadima) told Israel National News: “I support Netanyahu’s decision to evacuate… I hope that this decision is a sign of things to come. The state of Israel cannot legitimize wild violations of the law only because of historical errors which are in violation of the principles of rule of law and the political process… We have to stand on principle.”