Foreign Ministry: Amona relocation could cause serious international backlash
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Foreign Ministry: Amona relocation could cause serious international backlash

Diplomats say proposal to move residents of illegal outpost to nearby empty, unclaimed land, is unlikely to pass test of international law

This May 18, 2016 photo shows buildings in Amona, an Israeli settlement outpost in the West Bank, east of Ramallah. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
This May 18, 2016 photo shows buildings in Amona, an Israeli settlement outpost in the West Bank, east of Ramallah. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Foreign Ministry officials are opposed to a proposed Justice Ministry plan to relocate the embattled Amona settlement outpost to a nearby empty plot of land, saying it runs contrary to international law and would likely cause serious international damage to Israel’s image.

The initiative is one of several options currently on the table as the Israeli leadership contends with a Supreme Court court order to demolish Amona by year’s end.

The Justice Ministry plan seeks to move the residents to “non-permanent” homes on an adjacent plot of land whose owners — Palestinians who left the area during the 1967 Six Day War — are not known.

The land would be offered to the families in renewable three-year rental contracts. The contracts would include an article explicitly affirming that if the rightful owner of the land returns to the West Bank, the contracts would be voided and the land handed to him or her.

According to an Army Radio report in August, the proposal’s authors claimed it would meet the standards of international law, because the land would be used on a rental basis, and no ownership would be claimed by its residents.

However a top Foreign Ministry official told Haaretz on Sunday that diplomats oppose the plan.

At a recent meeting with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, ministry representatives asserted that the proposal could not in fact be justified by the standards of international law.

They also noted that the US was vehemently opposed to the plan, seeing it as a breach of Jerusalem’s past assurances that it would not appropriate Palestinian lands for new construction. Thus, regardless of whether it were strictly legal, the proposition could carry serious consequences for the relationship with Washington.

Another solution the government is considering is the so-called regulation bill, which seeks to recognize Amona and other illegal outposts in the West Bank, proposing that Palestinian owners whose lands have been appropriated for settlements or outposts receive alternate plots of land, in addition to financial compensation amounting to 50 percent of the land’s value.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday announced a week’s postponement for a vote on the controversial bill, which has been deemed unconstitutional by Mandelblit. According to the Ynet news website, Sunday’s delay came after Mandelblit asked the committee to reject a vote on the legislation.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/POOL)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/POOL)

As another alternative, the government recently approved the construction of nearly 100 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Shiloh to compensate homeowners of Amona. This, too, drew a furious response from Washington.

Amona, founded in 1995, 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. A partial evacuation a decade ago sparked violent clashes between residents and security forces and it is feared a new evacuation could trigger another showdown.

In 2008, a group of Palestinians represented by the Israeli rights group Yesh Din petitioned the Supreme Court claiming Amona settlers had encroached on their land and demanding the entire outpost be dismantled. The court petition set off a protracted legal battle that saw a number of proposed evacuation dates missed and repeatedly delayed until a final ruling in 2014 ordered the state to demolish the outpost by December 25, 2016. The state also agreed to compensate the landowners with about $75,000.

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