Government mulls new plan to move Amona outpost

Proposal would see homes relocated from private Palestinian land to ‘rental’ arrangement on plot whose owners fled in 1967

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)

Israel is preparing to move 41 homes in the Amona settlement in the West Bank that are sitting on private Palestinian land to a nearby patch of ground whose owners are unknown.

The High Court of Justice has repeatedly ruled against the unauthorized outpost, and set a deadline in late 2016 for moving the homes.

The residents have vowed to fight the evacuation, and right-wing ministers have called for various solutions, including legislation, that would allow them to remain, though lawmakers have struggled to find a formula that could legally sidestep court-recognized ownership.

Established in 1997, Amona is the largest of about 100 unauthorized outposts — built without permission but generally tolerated by the government — that dot the West Bank. The outpost became a symbol of settler defiance after a partial evacuation a decade ago sparked violent clashes between residents and security forces. The impending evacuation, ordered in 2014, could lead to another showdown.

One alternative called for relocating the settlement to the northern West Bank, to land near the settlement of Shiloh. Amona’s residents have rejected such a move.

But the new plan, developed in the Justice Ministry, 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 framework, presented as a formal legal opinion in recent days to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, would see the residents of the new neighborhood pay rent into a state-managed bank account that would be held in escrow for the owners, and would be theirs to claim should they present proof of their pre-1967 ownership of the land.

The plan was leaked on Tuesday to Army Radio. It was authored by a special committee led by attorney Chaya Zandberg, head of the civil law department in the State Attorney’s Office, and including the Defense Ministry’s legal adviser and head of its planning administration, and a representative of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

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

According to the new framework, the state would not seek workarounds to the High Court’s evacuation order. All 41 homes will be dismantled and removed.

Meanwhile, the nearby plot of land would be offered to the families in renewable three-year rental contracts.

The contracts will include an article explicitly affirming that if the rightful owner of the land returns to the West Bank, the contracts will be voided and the land handed to him or her.

The rent payments will be kept in a separate account in order to allow for repayment to the absentee owners should they return.

According to Army Radio, the 30-page report dwells at length on the requirements of international laws related to absentee owners in occupied territories. International law will not be abridged by the move, the report argues, because the land is being used on a rental basis, and no ownership is being claimed by its future residents.

The new framework is expected to garner the support of cabinet ministers, and to withstand any possible High Court challenge. Part of the legal reasoning is grounded in a 1998 legal opinion by then-IDF military advocate general Uri Shoham, who today serves as a justice on the High Court.

Mandelblit must approve the plan before it can be carried out.

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