Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff reportedly told residents of the illegal Amona outpost that “they need to bow down before Netanyahu for saving the settlement,” following complaints by residents that a compromise deal signed with the government to prevent the outpost’s demolition has not been implemented.
The West Bank outpost, which the High Court of Justice ruled had been built on private Palestinian land and must be demolished by December 25, 2016, will instead be evacuated by February 8 after residents of Amona reached a deal with the government last month under which 24 of the outpost’s 41 families would be moved to an adjacent plot of land on the same hill while the rest would move to the nearby Ofra settlement.
The government would also explore permanent housing solutions on the adjacent plot, according to the deal.
However, in a letter sent Friday morning to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Amona residents said the government had not yet begun work on a new site for them, had reneged on allowing them use of a plot, and acted improperly in appointing a project manager.
They also questioned whether Netanyahu had ever intended to keep his promises.
Speaking during a meeting last week that included Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s chief of staff Tal Gan Zvi, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s chief of staff Yair Hirsch, chairman of the Yesha settlers council Avi Roeh and representatives from Amona, the prime minister’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz reportedly scolded the outpost’s residents for not properly appreciating the prime minister’s labors on their behalf.
“We are working day and night. The prime minister dedicates 60 percent of his time to the Amona issue. He and all of his staff are dealing with this the majority of the time,” Horowitz said, according to the Hebrew-language news website Ynet.
“You need to bow down before Netanyahu for saving the settlement,” he added.
Horowitz’s comments reportedly came in direct response to accusations by the Amona residents during the meeting that the government has failed to honor the compromise deal signed December 18.
“If the government does not live up to its commitment and if we find out that you deceived us, tons of people will arrive [at Amona] and there will be an explosion,” the residents allegedly threatened during the meeting.
According to the reports, Horowitz said the holdup was due to legal challenges over use of the adjacent plot of land.
The anti-settlement group Yesh Din, which originally petitioned the court against Amona, confirmed on Sunday that it had presented the West Bank Civil Administration with opposition to the proposal, claiming the plots were also privately owned Palestinian land. A spokesman for the NGO told The Times of Israel that while there was no official confirmation, it appeared the government had backed down from the plan.
A spokesperson for the attorney general office, who had originally put forward the plan to move residents to an adjacent plot, said they had not been told that the proposal was off the table.
Israeli officials had feared the planned evacuation of the outpost would lead to violent clashes — a repeat of a partial evacuation on the site in 2006 — and ahead of the planned demolition, hundreds of supporters had flocked to the outpost and set up makeshift fortifications for an expected confrontation with security forces.
A tiny outpost of some 41 families on a hillside alongside the Ofra settlement, northeast of Ramallah, Amona was built in the 1990s on what has repeatedly been ruled as privately owned Palestinian land.
A 15-year legal battle culminated in a December 2014 ruling by the High Court that the outpost be evacuated and demolished. At the time, the court gave the state and residents 24 months to prepare alternate arrangements.
In its decision in late December, the justices noted the state’s efforts, “albeit with great tardiness,” to reach a resolution to the issue and to “ensure peaceful evacuation, without violence or resistance on the day of the demolition.”
Yesha Council chairman Avi Roeh also cited the lack of progress on implementing the deal during the meeting, saying that “only if a working team will be appointed, the issue will maybe succeed in progressing.”