Senior government figures are promoting a compromise to prevent the razing of an illegal West Bank outpost that would see at least some parts of the settler site remain in place, Channel 12 and Kan news reported on Sunday.
The report came as Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is responsible for handling the planned removal of the outpost, vowed that its demolition will move forward.
Political sources told the networks that a compromise is being looked at that would see the state reconsider the status of the land the outpost stands on with a view to making it legal for a settlement.
The plan calls for the majority of the Evyatar residents to leave and their homes to remain standing empty, while authorities examine the legal status of the land on which it was built.
In the meantime, the site would become a military post or an educational institution. If it is the latter, a number of families of staff would remain living in the outpost.
Should the land eventually be approved for use by the settlers, residents would be able to move back to the community.
The plan has not yet been approved and could still undergo changes, according to the sources familiar with the developments. The reports did not say which government figures were pushing the proposal.
Sources told Kan that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who leads the nationalist right-wing Yamina party, is keen to avoid the spectacle of the outpost being removed, given the current political situation in which the coalition is struggling to maintain a majority in the Knesset.
The issue of the outpost has been used by opposition lawmakers to attack Bennett, accusing him of being under the thumb of his centrist and left-wing coalition partners (though illegal outposts were repeatedly dismantled under predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu).
On Sunday, former interior minister Aryeh Deri, head of the Shas party and now in the opposition, pressed the government to convene the cabinet and reconsider razing the outpost.
Responding in a letter to Deri, Gantz wrote that the outpost was set up in “an illegal manner, and the fate of the site is to be cleared out.”
Gantz told Deri he should “focus your efforts into calling on the residents to listen to the instructions of law enforcement and evacuate the place.”
Last week, the army rejected an appeal from settlers against razing the outpost, allowing the demolition to take place as of midnight Sunday. Without government intervention, the site will likely be demolished within days.
Residents at the outpost have urged right-wing activists to flood to the site to prevent the site from being taken down. The residents said in a statement that they have set up a tent city surrounding the outpost structures to prevent their expected evacuation.
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 to public ownership.
The outpost has grown quickly over the last two months, swelling to roughly 50 buildings for dozens of families. Its 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.
On Sunday morning, opposition MKs from the Religious Zionism and ultra-Orthodox Shas parties visited the settlement, calling on the new government to prevent it from being demolished.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said last week that Evyatar would 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 outpost since taking office, Lapid, who is also alternate prime minister, told Zman Yisrael, 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 last 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.”
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.