Averting crisis, coalition agrees to push outpost bill but leave out Amona
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Bennett claims law will pave the way to Israeli sovereignty in West Bank

Averting crisis, coalition agrees to push outpost bill but leave out Amona

Jewish Home party backs down after settlers promised plots on absentee land nearby; Knesset to vote on controversial bill later Monday

Education Minister Naftali Bennett  at the  in cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on December 4, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the in cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on December 4, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

The government is expected to vote Monday on controversial legislation that would give the country backing to legalize settlements built on private Palestinian land, but will not include a clause to save the outpost of Amona, slated to be razed later this month.

The move came after an 11th-hour compromise was reached among coalition members which will see the outpost’s residents moved to a nearby parcel of land, averting a government showdown and possibly paving the way for the peaceful evacuation of the West Bank site, which was built on private Palestinian land..

The nationalist-religious Jewish Home Party, which sponsored initial legislation intended to save Amona, backed down on its demands that a clause be inserted to allow the overriding of a High Court ruling demanding the demolition of the outpost, a source in the party said.

However, party leader Education Minister Naftali Bennett still painted the measure as a victory, calling it the first step toward Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

“Today, the Israeli Knesset shifted from a path to establish a Palestinian state, to a path of extending sovereignty to Judea and Samaria. Let there be no doubt, the regulation bill is what will spearhead the extension of [Israeli] sovereignty,” a smiling Bennett said.

The measure is expected to go before the Knesset for a preliminary reading later Monday, and will move toward passage in subsequent readings as early as Tuesday. If it is passed, it is almost certain to be challenged before the High Court.

The coalition is also attempting to convene the Ministerial Committee for Legislation for an emergency meeting Monday night to get coalition backing for the new measure, ensuring it sails through the Knesset.

Jewish residents of the unauthorized Israeli outpost of Amona, in the West Bank, seen walking on the streets of the outpost on November 17, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Jewish residents of the unauthorized Israeli outpost of Amona, in the West Bank, seen walking on the streets of the outpost on November 17, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The last minute-deal comes a week after the Knesset passed a preliminary reading of a similar controversial bill, though with an option for the clause saving Amona added in.

That version of the so-called Regulation Bill faced repeated objections from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to delay the vote. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) said that his party would abstain from the vote if the bill contained the clause which undermined a Supreme Court ruling, setting the stage for a possible coalition crisis.

After negotiations Sunday night, the Knesset will now vote on a revised version of the bill which will not prevent the evacuation of Amona but which will prevent evacuations of other outposts in the future.

It appears that the new legislation will be based upon a solution proposed by Mandelblit whereby the evacuees of Amona would be housed temporarily on three plots of land administered by Israel’s Custodian for Absentees’ Property.

The move would mean evacuees would have a place to stay near the original settlement, which the courts and other government bodies have repeatedly ruled was built illegally on private Palestinian land, while their new homes are completed in another settlement in the northern West Bank.

The Amona outpost, founded in 1995 on a hill near Ramallah in the central West Bank, is home to about 40 families. It is the largest of about 100 unauthorized outposts — built without permission but generally tolerated by the government — that dot the West Bank.

Police clashing with settlers and protesters at the Amona outpost in 2006. (Yossi Zamir, Flash90)
Police clashing with settlers and protesters at the Amona outpost in 2006. (Yossi Zamir, Flash90)

The outpost is slated to be evacuated by December 25, though settlers there have vowed to resist the order, leading to fears of a repeat of violent clashes when homes were razed there in 2006.

Speaking at the Likud faction meeting in the Knesset Monday, Netanyahu said he and his party “understand the difficult plight of the residents, and we value their dedication.”

Netanyahu explained that the government sought new solutions that remained within the law in order to solve the issue.

“True, they will have to move a few dozen meters, but they will be able to remain in the area and that is very good news,” Netanyahu said.

Kahlon said that he had proven his own leadership qualities by not allowing legislation that would have undermined the court ruling.

“You cannot protect the settlers without protecting the rule of law,” he said at the start of the weekly Kulanu faction meeting.

MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home), one of the sponsors of the original legislation to save Amona, said that he has mixed feelings about the bill.

“It is not perfect, but it is certainly an achievement,” he said.

Marissa Newman and Raoul Wootliff contributed to this article.

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