Residents of the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona said late Wednesday that they rejected a government 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, because “the government didn’t really commit to anything” with regard to the agreement.
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 some 10 hours of deliberations, the residents voted 59-20 against the 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.
In a statement delivered shortly after they announced they would not take the deal, in return for leaving their homes peacefully in accordance with the impending court-imposed evacuation, the residents said that despite their “initial happiness” at receiving the offer, they soon realized the deal was in essence like “Swiss cheese.”
“The government didn’t really commit to anything here, and everything is dependent on numerous legal proceedings that are not guaranteed to succeed and behind which the state doesn’t stand,” they said.
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 residents emphasized that should the state give its “explicit commitment to build the temporary homes and delay the evacuation until after that construction in completed, we would accept it.” If the state fails to prove that commitment, “we cannot accept the deal,” they added.
“We have learned from previous expulsions, we cannot count on words that are not backed by commitments,” they said.
In a separate text sent out just before the statement, the residents urged people from all over the country to come to the outpost to help prevent its evacuation, calling the government deal “ambiguous.”
“We invite the people of Israel to come to Amona to protest against the destructions of of a Jewish community,” read the text message.
The High Court mandates the demolition of Amona by December 25. It is not yet clear when the forcible evacuation will take place.
The plots on which the state had offered to build the temporary homes and in which the residents would have lived for at least two years under the deal, 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 included 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.”
For 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.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.