Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has warned the government that plans to retroactively authorize the illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar could strain relations with the United States and lead to a severe backlash from the international community, according to a report by the Haaretz daily.
News broke Wednesday morning that former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit had approved a compromise deal between the government and settlers to legalize Evyatar in his final hours in office on Tuesday. The move, which is hotly controversial among the ideologically diverse government coalition, still requires the final approval of Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
According to Haaretz, Lapid sent a harshly worded letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, revealing that senior US officials have warned Israel of the consequences of moving ahead with the plan.
“Any step toward implementing the plan, which as is known, was not made in consultation with me and is contrary to my opinion, includes an actual declaration of state lands or the issuing of a ‘special planning order,’ which could have serious diplomatic consequences and damage to foreign relations, first and foremost from the United States,” Lapid warned. “This has already been made clear by the U.S. administration at senior levels.”
“This would cause real damage in the growing legal-diplomatic campaign [against Israel] before international forums, taking advantage of it to promote the delegitimization of Israel,” he wrote.
A copy of the letter was also sent to the Attorney General’s Office, the report said.
The letter reportedly also noted that Lapid was not part of the recent discussions regarding the plan and was not consulted on its potential diplomatic ramifications.
Army Radio also reported that in an official opinion to the Justice Ministry, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy attorney general warned promotion of the Evyatar compromise plan will cause substantial damage to diplomatic relations and bolster boycott efforts against Israel.
“Diplomatic officials estimate that the outline will lead to an escalation in the delegitimization activities against Israel,” the opinion said.
The authorization of Evyatar has also put a strain inside the government, with Meretz and Labor on Wednesday coming out against it, calling it “destructive.”
“Our government must deal with steeply rising prices and urgent economic aid to citizens,” Labor said. “Instead, a small number of government members are choosing to advance illegal outposts that hurt Israel and Israeli security.”
“Those who want a stable and functioning coalition should act according to the agreements,” it added, singling out Gantz and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked for criticism.
Meretz said it will oppose “any attempt to establish new settlements,” and that this issue is “at the root of the agreement to form the government.” The party said legalizing new settlements “is the last thing this country needs.”
Under the terms of the agreement reached in late June, the settlers left the outpost peacefully and the area became a closed military zone, with the houses and roads remaining in place and a detachment of soldiers moving in.
As part of the deal, a survey was carried out that reportedly determined that part of the land was not owned by Palestinians, paving the way for the establishment of a yeshiva and for some settler families to return. The return of settlers to Evyatar still requires a formal announcement that the site will be approved, as well as a grace period during which objections can be filed.
In August, the High Court rejected a petition lodged by Palestinians against the deal. The justices ruled that the petitioners’ claims to own the land were “speculative” and that the land survey at the time was ongoing and incomplete.
The settlers named the outpost Evyatar after Evyatar Borovsky, who was murdered in a stabbing attack at Tapuah Junction by a Palestinian in 2013.
Several dozen settler families moved to the site, which has had previous incarnations as outposts that were razed by Israeli authorities, and established the yeshiva. The deal last summer according to which the settlers left came just after the country’s fragile government was formed and appeared to have been struck as a way to avoid the media spectacle of troops forcibly dragging away Israeli families.
Palestinians in nearby villages say the outpost was built on their land and fear it will grow and merge with larger settlements nearby. Before the settlers left, Palestinians held near-daily protests that led to violent clashes with Israeli troops.