Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz reached an agreement whereby settlers will evacuate the illegal Evyatar outpost in the West Bank by 4 p.m. Friday (Israel time), but the state will work to legalize control of the land and establish a yeshiva at the site at a later date, the government said after midnight Wednesday.
A statement released by Cabinet Secretary Shalom Shlomo detailed the agreement that came after several days of talks between the military, government and settlers. It largely confirmed details of the compromise released earlier in the day by the Samaria Regional Council.
According to the agreement, settlers will leave the site by 4 p.m. on Friday afternoon. The local council then has an additional week to empty and lock buildings and structures at the hilltop site.
In the meantime, the Israel Defense Forces will establish an “immediate round-the-clock presence” at the site.
The Defense Ministry carry out a survey of the land to establish which parts can be declared state land and which parts are considered to be private Palestinian property.
“Lands that are found to belong to the state will be declared as such, while those that are private will be evacuated,” the statement said, noting that buildings will not be demolished until then.
As soon as possible after the lands are declared state property a yeshiva, including housing, will be established at the site, and a permanent civilian presence there will be permitted once all permits are issued, the statement said.
Earlier Wednesday, residents of Evyatar gave their final approval to the deal, according to the Samaria Regional Council.
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 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.
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.
The US State Department on Wednesday condemned the new West Bank outpost.
“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 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.
Commenting after reports of the deal emerged, MK Mossi Raz of the left-wing Meretz party, which is part of the coalition, said that if the deal was final, it was “very grave.”
“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.”