Fresh Amona rehousing plan envisions new West Bank settlement

40 families to be temporarily quartered in neighboring Ofra settlement until another community can be founded

View of the Amona outpost in the West Bank, on November 28, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
View of the Amona outpost in the West Bank, on November 28, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The residents of an illegal West Bank outpost set for eviction later this month will reportedly be rehoused in the neighboring settlement of Ofra until a new settlement can be founded.

According to a Ynet report published Wednesday, the 40 families living in Amona, which the High Court of Justice ordered demolished because it was built on private Palestinian land, will be accommodated in temporary housing in Ofra. A permanent settlement will be established seven miles to the north, next to the existing Israeli settlement of Shvut Rachel.

The details of the plan were being finalized by the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration, the military organ responsible for governing the West Bank.

The Amona outpost is due to be demolished by December 25, according to a High Court of Justice judgment from 2014. The families who live in the outpost, the subject of some 15 years of legal wrangling, are slated to be transferred to three plots of land located just dozens of meters from the current site of the outpost. The new location will house the families for eight months while permanent alternatives are arranged.

According to Ynet, the plan entails putting up 20 families in temporary houses on open plots in Ofra, while another 20 families will reside in a school. The attorney general’s office told the website that the plan was still being assessed, and that the Defense Ministry was still planning alternatives. A defense official said that the above-mentioned plan was the most realistic option.

An earlier plan to relocate Amona residents hit a legal snag Tuesday, less than three weeks before a court-ordered evacuation.

But that plan, conceived by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, was reportedly off the table after the anti-settlement group Yesh Din lodged legal appeals against two of the three prospective future sites, Channel 2 news reported.

The plots in question belong to “absentee” landlords, a term usually referring to Palestinians who left the country 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 Mandelblit suggested would make the temporary use of the lands less problematic under law.

Channel 2 cited a “senior legal source” as saying it was almost certainly not possible to overcome the appeals by the late-December deadline.

The hiccup marks the latest stumble in a saga that has roiled the coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Knesset on Monday advanced a special Regulation Bill that would, if passed, resolve future cases similar to Amona’s — where settlements are built on land that later turns out to be privately owned — in favor of the residents.

The latest version of the Regulation Bill excludes Amona from its new arrangements, but would allow future outposts to be “regulated” by empowering the state to forcibly lease the land from its Palestinian owners in exchange for monetary compensation. If the bill becomes law it is may well be struck down by the High Court.

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