Residents of an illegal West Bank outpost gave final approval early Wednesday morning to a reported deal with the government that will see them move off the West Bank hilltop before the weekend, but leave some of the wildcat settlement intact.
According to the Samaria Regional Council, the deal will see the state reconsider the status of the outpost’s land with a view to making it legal for a future settlement, after “it is proved that Evyatar is not situated on private land.”
The government has not yet commented on the deal.
The regional council said that under the deal, Evyatar’s residents will leave but its structures won’t be demolished, with the Israel Defense Forces instead immediately transforming the outpost into a makeshift army base. Later on, a new yeshiva will be established there.
Meanwhile, authorities will examine the legal status of the land. Should the land eventually be approved for use by the settlers, they would be able to move back to the community, according to the statement.
The agreement came hours after questions arose regarding settler claims about the compromise.
According to settler leaders, under the new deal, a yeshiva will only be established at the site in several months, and not on August 9, as the earlier deal detailed by the outpost’s leadership had stipulated.
However, they said the deal will also require the Defense Ministry to complete a survey of the land within six months, with an eye to permitting settlement building on parts of the tract not found to encroach on privately owned Palestinian plots.
The settlers’ approval of the final deal was announced by the Samaria Regional Council just after midnight on Wednesday morning. There was no immediate confirmation from the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration, which manages Israeli and Palestinian civilian affairs in Area C of the West Bank.
It came after what Army Radio described as a stormy meeting that lasted into the night, with some opposing the agreement that will see them leave their homes by the end of the week, with no guarantee that they will be allowed to return.
On Tuesday, Bezalel Smotrich, the head of the opposition Religious Zionism party, accused the government of backtracking on “understandings” reached that he said would have allowed a continuous civilian presence at the site. He urged residents to reject any changes.
Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan defended the agreement as necessary given societal rifts. “Any step toward the other side is for the unity of the people of Israel during these tough times of divisions,” he said in a statement early Wednesday.
Religious Zionism MK Orit Strock dismissed Dagan’s reasoning as a “shameful” excuse and said the “retreat from and erosion of the agreement” was “worrying.”
After the deal was approved, it was criticized Wednesday by politicians from both right and left.
MK Mossi Raz of the left-wing Meretz coalition party said that if the deal was final, it was “very grave.”
“This is simply insanity, letting terrorist criminals decide where an army base will be formed,” Raz told Radio 103FM. “These are family members of criminals who stole land, they are truly terrorists. I prefer the outpost to remain as is rather than this fraud that is being called a compromise — this isn’t a compromise, this is capitulation.”
Far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir (Religious Zionism) issued a statement directed at Evyatar residents, warning them that “I fear [Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett will deceive you” and adding that the settlements should be legalized the same way some Bedouin communities in the Negev built without permits are set to be legalized.
“We must understand that Jews aren’t second-class [citizens] who are always evacuated,” he charged.
It was not immediately clear when the yeshiva would be formed under the apparent compromise. According to reports, Defense Minister Benny Gantz had balked at allowing the yeshiva to be situated at the outpost before the land survey determined where settlers could build under Israeli law.
Such surveys can take years to carry out, but settlers, reportedly backed by Smotrich, sought to limit the ministry to only six months to complete the study.
On Monday, the Samaria Regional Council claimed the deal had the backing of Bennett, Gantz and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Bennett, a former settler leader who leads the right-wing Yamina party, was reported Sunday to be eager to avoid the spectacle of the outpost being removed under his leadership, especially given the current political situation in which the coalition is struggling to maintain a majority in the Knesset.
There has been no confirmation of the terms of the deal from Bennett, Gantz or Shaked.
Lawmakers from the predominantly Arab Joint List party earlier slammed the proposal as “legitimizing settlement and crime.”
The majority of the international community regards all Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal but Israeli law differentiates between settlements permitted by the Defense Ministry and outposts established without permission, usually by ideologically motivated youths. Many settlements started life as illegal outposts and only gained retroactive government approval after reaching a critical mass of residents.
Evyatar, located on land south of Nablus that Palestinians say they have traditionally worked but were prohibited by the IDF from reaching, was started up in early May following a deadly shooting attack at the nearby Tapuah Junction. Earlier iterations of the outpost have been razed several times since Israelis first tried to settle the site in 2013.
The Civil Administration says it has not determined to whom the land belongs. According to West Bank property laws, uncultivated land can revert to public ownership.
The outpost has grown quickly over the last two months, swelling to roughly 50 mobile homes and other makeshift structures housing dozens of families. Its Facebook page boasts that Evyatar prevents contiguity between the surrounding Palestinian villages while connecting the Israeli settlement of Tapuah to the Za’atara Junction and Migdalim settlement.
The population further ballooned this week as right-wing youths set up camp at the site and prepared to resist the looming evacuation.
The area near the outpost has seen repeated clashes in recent weeks as Palestinians protested the creation of the outpost, in some cases hurling stones at troops and burning swaths of land. Israeli soldiers have responded with riot dispersal munitions and in some cases, live bullets, killing four Palestinians.