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Settlers now say they will resume their struggle

Netanyahu aide reportedly says Amona compromise off the table

PM’s chief of staff says relocating West Bank outpost residents to adjacent plot of land no longer possible, citing objections by Palestinian landowner

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Young Jewish settlers react to the news that the residents of the illegal outpost of Amona had accepted a government proposal to peacefully evacuate the outpost and move to a nearby location on December 18, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Young Jewish settlers react to the news that the residents of the illegal outpost of Amona had accepted a government proposal to peacefully evacuate the outpost and move to a nearby location on December 18, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff on Sunday reportedly informed Likud ministers that a compromise deal struck between the government and the residents of the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona would be impossible to implement.

The High Court of Justice has repeatedly ruled that Amona was built on private Palestinian land, and in a final ruling in 2014, ordered the government to evacuate and demolish the hilltop community by December 25, 2016.

But under fierce pressure from settlers and their Knesset supporters, the government in late December secured a 45-day extension from the court until early February after reaching an agreement with Amona residents that would see 24 of the outpost’s 41 families moved to an adjacent plot of land on the same hilltop, while the rest would relocate to the nearby settlement of Ofra.

Netanyahu’s Chief of Staff Yoav Horowitz reportedly said Sunday, however, that the adjacent plot of land would not be used at all, as it was contested by a Palestinian landowner, according to Hebrew media reports.

“Right now, there is no option for the remaining residents to stay on the hilltop because the plan was met with opposition by the absentee owners of that property,” Horowitz said.

Mariam Hammad, of nearby Silwad, points to a piece of land in the West Bank she says belongs to her but was taken by Israelis to build the outpost of Amona, November 2016 (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

Instead, he said the Amona residents were offered new options: build a new settlement in the area, or relocate the entire community to Ofra.

Earlier this month, Horowitz reportedly scolded the outpost’s residents for not properly appreciating the prime minister’s labors on their behalf.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's chief of staff Yoav Horowitz during an interview with Channel 2 on September 3, 2016. (Screen capture: Channel 2)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz during an interview with Channel 2 on September 3, 2016. (Screen capture: Channel 2)

“We are working day and night. The prime minister dedicates 60 percent of his time to the Amona issue. He and all of his staff are dealing with this the majority of the time,” Horowitz said on January 8, according to the Hebrew-language news website Ynet.

“You need to bow down before Netanyahu for saving the settlement,” he added.

According to Channel 10, outpost residents rejected the government’s counter-offer, saying that their ability to remain on the contested hilltop was the cornerstone of the entire agreement.

The head of the campaign against the outpost razing wrote on Twitter on Sunday that the Amona residents would now resume their protest against the government.

Young Israeli settlers gather around a fire in the settlement outpost of Amona, which was established in 1997 and built on private Palestinian land, in the West Bank on December 18, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
Young Israeli settlers gather around a fire in the settlement outpost of Amona, which was established in 1997 and built on private Palestinian land, in the West Bank on December 18, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

“Only the regulation law with a retroactive application will save the residents of Amona and prevent the eradication of an entire community,” Avichay Boaron said, referring to a bill to legalize West Bank outposts, which passed its first reading, but was subsequently shelved. The law does not apply to Amona.

“Unfortunately you left us no choice but to return to our struggle,” he wrote.

Last week, Amona residents accused the government of dragging its feet in implementing the deal, and warned they would not allow the government to evict them from their homes while neglecting its obligations under the agreement.

In a letter to Netanyahu, they also asserted that the Israeli public would not tolerate a nationalist right-wing government that allows for the demolition of an entire settlement.

Authorities were hoping the compromise deal could prevent a repeat of the violence that followed the destruction of several permanent buildings in the outpost in 2006, when the court similarly ruled that buildings were built on private Palestinian land.

The 2006 clashes in Amona (Nati Shohat/Flash 90)

In late December, the High Court of Justice extended the demolition deadline to February 8, 2017, warning that this was the “last, final extension,” and the state will have to carry out the court’s orders by that date “whether an arrangement [with Amona residents for an alternative location] is reached or not.”

Before approving the extension, the court sought and received a signed pledge by residents that they would leave the site peacefully in February, issuing a statement clarifying that they “agree and commit unanimously to a peaceful eviction without conflict or resistance.”

AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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