Ministers okay legalizing outpost, paving way for hundreds new homes

Cabinet moves to give Netiv Ha’avot official standing despite demolition order, funnel NIS 60 million to residents, including to help pay owners of to-be razed houses

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

A bulldozer demolishes a woodshop at the illegal Netiv Ha'avot outpost, November 29, 2017 (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
A bulldozer demolishes a woodshop at the illegal Netiv Ha'avot outpost, November 29, 2017 (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

The cabinet approved a proposal on Sunday to begin the process of legalizing the Netiv Ha’avot outpost in the West Bank, where 15 homes are slated for demolition in nine days.

The cabinet approval will not cover the houses that the High Court of Justice ruled need be razed by March 6.

However, residents intend to advance the construction of 350 more homes once the legalization of the remainder of the outpost, where over 20 other families live, is complete, thereby significantly expanding the neighborhood.

In addition, government ministers authorized the funneling of nearly NIS 60 million ($17.2 million) from the Finance Ministry to the Gush Etzion Regional Council — the representative municipal body for the Elazar settlement, where Netiv Ha’avot is located.

Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Shlomo Ne’eman (second from L) sits at a protest tent outside the PMO in Jerusalem with residents of the Netiv Ha’avot outpost slated for demolition. (Courtesy: Campaign to save Netiv Ha’avot)

Addressing the cabinet ahead of its weekly meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon along with his chief of staff Yoav Horovitz and Ronen Peretz from the Prime Minister’s Office for their efforts in earmarking the funds which required corresponding cuts to various offices.

“The residents of Netiv Ha’avot have been waiting a long time for this,” Netanyahu said.

Praising the cabinet decision, Gush Etzion Regional Council chairman Shlomo Ne’eman called it “a tremendous achievement for the Zionist enterprise in Judea and Samaria,” referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.

“The crime of demolishing the houses will not be forgiven even with this new building, but the construction will bring hope to the Zionist enterprise in the Etzion Bloc,” he said.

The Peace Now settlement watchdog blasted the cabinet decision, saying the government was “proving once again that one law exists for settlers and another for the rest of the country’s citizens.”

“The millions of shekels in public funds that will be transferred for the establishment of an alternative settlement are political bribes that make clear how ready Netanyahu is to sell the public’s national interests in order to survive,” the NGO charged.

Nearly half of the funds to be transferred — NIS 29 million ($8.31 million) — will go toward building a temporary neighborhood for the 15 families whose homes are slated for demolition until permanent homes are built for them nearby.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on February 25, 2018. (Screen capture/Ynet)

While the plan for the hilltop community has already been approved for construction, the cabinet proposal will ensure that it has the funds to be actualized.

An additional NIS 24 million ($6.88 million) will be given to the residents as compensation for the demolished illegally built homes; and NIS 2.25 million ($644,580) will cover the residents’ stay in guest accommodation for three months, if the temporary neighborhood is not completed before the demolition.

Sunday’s proposal states that the transfer of the funds will be dependent on the High Court’s response to a pair of petitions related to the outpost.

The first was submitted earlier this year by Peace Now on behalf of a group of Palestinians claiming ownership of the land on which the temporary community is slated to be built.

The second petition, submitted on Tuesday by the state itself, requests that the March 6 demolition be delayed by three months to provide time for the construction of the temporary caravan community.

In addition, the delay would allow for the advancement of another plan that would grant post-facto building permits to seven of the 15 homes slated for demolition on the grounds that they sit only marginally on land that does not belong to the state.

Border Police officers guard near tractors during preparations for the evacuation and demolition of the illegal Netiv Ha’avot outpost on February 7, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

If adopted, the plan would see the “problematic parts” of those seven homes sawed off, while the rest of the structures would be allowed to remain standing. This would mean that only eight homes would require complete demolition by security forces.

However, the plan faces significant legal hurdles given that the High Court has already rejected a similar appeal by residents to remove parts from six of the homes.

The state’s High Court petition was also accompanied by a letter signed by each of the families pledging “to evacuate the homes without resistance, without violence, and refrain from bringing demonstrators” into their homes.

While they may not enter the homes themselves, hundreds of youths are still expected to descend on Netiv Ha’avot on the day of the evacuation.

Last month, residents hosted some 1,000 youth for Shabbat in an effort to recruit support ahead of the March razing. A staple at past demolitions of Israeli settlements, the younger protesters’ presence at such operations has frequently led to clashes with troops.

It was a September 2016 High Court ruling that initially sanctioned the demolition after the legal body accepted the petition of a group of Palestinians who argued the homes had been partially built illegally on their land.

The ruling called for the demolition of 17 structures in total. The two nonresidential ones — a carpentry shop and a war memorial for slain IDF soldiers — were demolished last year.

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