Israel has approved the construction of nearly 100 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Shiloh to compensate homeowners of the nearby outpost of Amona ahead of its court-ordered evacuation and demolition, the watchdog Peace Now said Saturday. Government sources confirmed the plan.
“At a time when world leaders met to commemorate (former Israeli president) Shimon Peres and the way he advocated for peace, the Israeli government has created a new obstacle to a two-state solution,” a Peace Now spokeswoman said.
Peres, 93, died on Wednesday and was buried on Friday at a Jerusalem ceremony attended by many world leaders including President Barack Obama of the United States, who has tried to broker new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
According to a Channel 2 report, the 98 new housing units in the settlement, located north of Ramallah, were approved by the Civil Administration’s Planning Authority on Wednesday, but went largely unnoticed due to Peres’s death earlier that day. The report said an additional 200 units were slated to be approved by the authority at a later date.
After a protracted legal battle, the Supreme Court in 2014 ordered the Israeli government to dismantle the unauthorized outpost by December 2016, ruling that it was built illegally on private Palestinian land and must be returned to its original owners.
Some Amona residents have rejected the relocation order, and have vowed not to comply with the court-ordered evacuation.
In an effort to sidestep the demolition, coalition Knesset members have locked horns over the so-called “regulation bill,” which proposes the Palestinian owners, whose lands have been appropriated for settlements or outposts, receive alternate plots of land in the West Bank, in addition to financial compensation amounting to 50 percent of the land’s value.
The bill was shelved in July after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit argued it was “unconstitutional.” A similar law to recognize outposts was knocked down in its preliminary reading in the Knesset in 2012, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed it and threatened to fire any minister or deputy minister who voted in favor.
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.
The Supreme Court has on several occasions ordered Amona dismantled. However, the government has repeatedly put off razing the community, despite court-ordered deadlines. In 2006, Israeli troops demolished nine homes after clashes with some 5,000 settlers and their sympathizers, but several dozen trailers have remained.
Amona settlers have recently claimed they had bought some of the land the outpost sits on, but Palestinians have vehemently denied this. The police have said the documents, which supposedly proved the sale, were likely forged.
Marissa Newman contributed to this report.