The High Court of Justice approved on Thursday a government request to delay the court-ordered demolition of the West Bank outpost of Amona by 45 days.
The court extended its upcoming December 25 demolition deadline to February 8, 2017, warning that this was the “last, final extension,” and the state will have to carry out the court’s orders by that date “whether an arrangement [with Amona residents for an alternative location] is reached or not.”
A tiny outpost of some 41 families on a hillside alongside the Ofra settlement, northeast of Ramallah, Amona was built in the 1990s on what the court has repeatedly ruled was privately owned Palestinian land. A 15-year legal battle culminated in a December 2014 ruling by the High Court that the outpost be evacuated and demolished. At the time, the court gave the state and residents 24 months to prepare alternate arrangements.
The looming deadline led to a political crisis in recent weeks that saw the advancement of the Regulation Bill. The proposed legislation would allow the state to seize control of private lands on which settlements are built if the settlers are deemed to have squatted on the site in good faith, without knowing it was privately owned property.
Under the deal reached between the residents and the government earlier this week, 24 of Amona’s 41 families would be moved to an adjacent plot of land on the same hill while the rest would move to the nearby Ofra settlement. The government would also explore permanent housing solutions on the adjacent plot.
Authorities were hoping the compromise deal could prevent a repeat of the violence that followed the destruction of several permanent buildings in the outpost in 2006, when the court similarly ruled that buildings were built on private Palestinian land.
Amona residents had threatened to cancel the government agreement if the court rejects the state’s request to delay.
“We are not bound by the agreement,” Amona spokesman Ofer Inbar told The Times of Israel earlier this week. “If they reject it, we will have to see what to do.”
In recent weeks, the court rejected requests by the state to postpone the demolition as negotiations were held with residents on evacuating peacefully. On Wednesday, the court gave the residents of the Amona outpost until 10 a.m. Thursday to sign an “unequivocal” guarantee that they will leave their homes with no resistance, before ruling on the new request from the state for a 45-day delay.
The residents on Thursday pledged to leave the site peacefully, issuing a statement clarifying that they “agree and commit unanimously to a peaceful eviction without conflict or resistance,” after the court had rejected their initial statement as “ambiguous.”
In its decision late Thursday, the justices noted the state’s efforts, “albeit with great tardiness” to reach a resolution to the issue and to “ensure peaceful evacuation, without violence or resistance on the day of the demolition.”
Meanwhile, the Palestinian landowners came out against the state’s extension request, claiming in a letter to the High Court this week that despite the court ruling, the state does not intend to return their land.
“The request to delay the evacuation, filed just four days before the court-ordered date, is the culmination of a two-year-long process to break down the respondents while keeping up the appearance of preserving the values of rule of law, equality, protection of property rights and fairness,” they wrote.