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Mandelblit said to have okayed illegal West Bank outpost just before retiring as AG

Reports say outgoing attorney general approved deal for Evyatar, paving the way for settlers to return to site; Meretz lawmakers pan move as reward to ‘criminals’

Israeli settlers and soldiers gather at the wildcat outpost of Evyatar near the West Bank city of Nablus, July 1, 2021. (Oded Balilty/AP)
Israeli settlers and soldiers gather at the wildcat outpost of Evyatar near the West Bank city of Nablus, July 1, 2021. (Oded Balilty/AP)

Outgoing attorney general Avichai Mandelblit okayed a deal between the government and West Bank settlers that would retroactively authorize an outpost established without official approval, Hebrew media reported Wednesday.

Mandelblit apparently signed off on the plan for the controversial Evyatar outpost during his final hours in office as he retired on Tuesday.

The move pushes forward the plan, which still needs a final green light from Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

The plan to authorize the outpost puts further strain on the fragile, ideologically diverse governing coalition.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Gantz, and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked have all recently been pushing to advance the plan, the Ynet news site reported.

However, coalition members from the dovish Meretz party said the retroactive approval of the wildcat outpost was a reward for settlers who break the law, coming at a time when settler violence against Palestinians has surged.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a ceremony at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem marking his departure after six years in the role, February 1, 2022 (YouTube screenshot)

Meretz party MK Michal Rozin said the approval was “a victory for the violence of the outlaws in the outposts,” noting in a tweet that the move went against the coalition’s decision to avoid divisive issues to ensure its stability.

Fellow Meretz lawmaker MK Mossi Raz said the intention of the “right-wing government” to establish the “criminal Evyatar outpost is a violation of the spirit of the coalition agreement and total surrender to settler violence.”

“It is unfortunate that there are some in the government who, instead of fighting against violence, work on behalf of those who are violent,” Raz said referring to a recent spike in violent attacks in the West Bank by extremist settlers against Palestinians, left-wing Israeli activists, and IDF soldiers.

Meretz MK Mossi Raz attends a lobby meeting in the Knesset, on June 22, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However, the Yesha umbrella group of West Bank settlement municipal councils welcomed the approval, saying, “We are sure that the defense minister will fulfill his promise and hope that the plan will begin already in the coming days.”

Under the agreement reached in July, 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.

The Justice Ministry declined to comment on the reports and Bennett’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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.

Local Palestinians have continued to protest against the outpost and the area has seen violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces. In December, the Palestinian Authority said a man was shot dead by the IDF during a protest near the outpost.

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