Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that an illegal West Bank outpost will be razed in accordance with army orders and that the issue will not be a source of division within the fragile coalition government.
In his first public remarks about the Evyatar outpost since taking office, Lapid, who is also alternate prime minister, told Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site, that the fate of the community was not in doubt.
“The outpost will be evacuated,” he said Monday. “It is illegal. It is not at all a question of right or left. It is an order from the army and the civil administration.”
Lapid’s remarks came the day after the army rejected an appeal from settlers against razing the outpost.
The issue of the outpost has been used by opposition lawmakers to attack Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, accusing him of being under the thumb of his centrist and left-wing coalition partners.
“Bennett will explain that there is no choice and that there are Civil Administration and army orders,” an MK from the far-right Religious Zionism party told Zman, though he noted that previous prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu also evacuated outposts.
“He [Bennett] will choose to evacuate it quickly and be done with it,” the lawmaker said. “He makes out that the army is already seriously prepared for the evacuation.”
Settlers at the Evyatar outpost had hoped to stop the planned evacuation, but the military denied their request on Sunday.
“The Evyatar outpost was established illegally. Everything was done in complete violation of the law and without any proprietary or planning agreements,” the IDF Central Command wrote.
The residents can now appeal to Israel’s top court, the High Court of Justice, but their petition unlikely to be accepted there.
Local Palestinian residents say they historically worked the land on which the outpost was built, but that the Israeli army has recently prevented them from reaching the area. The Civil Administration, an Israeli military body that manages Palestinian civilian affairs — including West Bank land registration — says it has not determined to whom the land belongs. According to West Bank property laws, uncultivated land can revert back to public ownership.
The outpost has quickly grown over the last two months, swelling to roughly 50 buildings for dozens of families. The outpost’s 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 area around Evyatar has seen repeated clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians in recent weeks following the reestablishment of the outpost. Evyatar has already been razed several times since it was built in 2013 after the murder of Yitzhar resident Evyatar Borovsky in a stabbing attack at the Tapuah Junction.
Palestinians near the adjacent Beita have hurled stones at troops and burned swaths of land, while Israeli soldiers have responded with riot dispersal munitions and in some cases, live bullets. In recent weeks, four Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the clashes.
The estimated cost of razing some 50 buildings in the illegal outpost is roughly NIS 10 million ($3 million), security officials told Channel 12 news last week.
Bennett and Lapid will alternate the prime minister’s position, each holding it for some two years, as part of the coalition agreement that formed an eight-party government of the left, center, and right along with Ra’am, an Arab Islmist party.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.