‘Illegal even under Israeli law’: US pans establishment of new Evyatar outpost

Asked to comment on wildcat West Bank community that gov’t has agreed to leave intact for now, State Dept. says it’s critical to refrain from steps that harm two-state solution

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Illegal Evyatar outpost in northern West Bank on May 25, 2021. ('Evyatar - new town in Samaria'/Facebook)
Illegal Evyatar outpost in northern West Bank on May 25, 2021. ('Evyatar - new town in Samaria'/Facebook)

The US State Department on Wednesday condemned the new West Bank outpost of Evyatar, which the Israeli government has agreed to keep intact for now despite its illegal establishment.

“We believe it is critical to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance equal measures of freedom, security and prosperity and a negotiated two-state solution. This certainly includes establishing new outposts which are illegal even under Israeli law,” a State Department spokesperson said when asked for comment on Evyatar.

The first line of the prepared response is one that has been reiterated by the Biden administration for months when asked to comment on settlement building, home demolitions and evictions by Israel, as well as incitement and payments to terrorists by Palestinians.

A source familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel that the US has been monitoring Evyatar since its establishment in late April and had been hoping the government would take steps to remove it, given that the Defense Ministry had acknowledged that it was built without the proper permits on land that does not belong to the state.

The Israeli impression, based on recent talks with the Biden administration, is that the US recognizes that it cannot push Jerusalem to take major steps vis-à-vis the Palestinians, which would risk collapsing the politically diverse coalition, Israeli officials told The Times of Israel this week.

The Biden administration is willing to give new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett some time before making asks in the Palestinian arena, but it’s not willing to accept complete paralysis and will speak out clearly against unilateral moves, a source said.

President Reuven Rivlin (left) and US President Joe Biden in the White House on June 29, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Earlier Wednesday, residents of Evyatar gave their final approval 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 outpost 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 post. 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.

MK Mossi Raz of the left-wing Meretz coalition party said that if the deal was final, it was “very grave.”

Evyatar settlers attend a meeting regarding a compromise deal to stave off the razing of the outpost, on June 29, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

“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.”

Bennett, a former director of the Yesha council settler lobby who now leads the right-wing Yamina party and the government, 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.

The prime minister’s position evidently won the day, despite Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the security establishment’s initial insistence that the outpost be removed, given the strain it causes on the IDF, which will now be forced to secure the community.

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, often by ideologically motivated youths. Many settlements started life as illegal outposts and only gained retroactive government approval after reaching a critical mass of residents.

Earlier iterations of Evyatar have been razed several times since Israelis first tried to settle the site in 2013.

The outpost is located on land south of Nablus that Palestinians say had historically been part of the Palestinian villages of Beita, Kablan and Yitma, though residents of those towns have been barred access for decades over what the IDF has said were security reasons. The land went uncultivated, opening it up for confiscation by the state for public use, based on West Bank property laws. Before that can happen though, the Civil Administration is required to survey the land to confirm its status, a step that Evyatar settlers did not wait for before moving in.

Palestinians protest against the Evyatar outpost in the nearby village of Beta, in the northern West Bank, on June 27, 2021. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

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 far 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.

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