Right-wing MKs float new bid to stave off outpost evacuation
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Right-wing MKs float new bid to stave off outpost evacuation

After attorney general deemed earlier draft to save Amona ‘unconstitutional,’ new bill ‘resolves all legal problems that were raised,’ spokesperson claims

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein touring the Amona outpost  on  July 28, 2016. Hadas Parush/FLASH90)
Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein touring the Amona outpost on July 28, 2016. Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

Right-wing Knesset members from the Jewish Home and Likud parties on Wednesday filed an amended bill to recognize unauthorized West Bank outposts and illegal construction, a proposal designed to avert the court-ordered demolition of the Amona outpost by the end of the year.

After years of delays and legal wrangling, the High Court ruled in 2014 that the Amona outpost, which lies east of Ramallah, was built on private Palestinian land and must be demolished by December 25 of this year. The impending evacuation has threatened to destabilize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strongly right-wing coalition.

The state asked the court for a seven-month extension on Monday.

Right-wing lawmakers have been seeking a legal loophole to prevent the evacuation with a bill that would formally recognize West Bank outposts. But the earlier version of the bill, proposed by Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, was deemed unconstitutional by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

“The proposals seek to retroactively cancel a final and conclusive ruling by the Supreme Court on specific cases, something that has no precedent and will strike a fatal blow to the rule of law,” Mandelblit said in September, adding that it would also run contrary to international law.

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich during a Knesset committee meeting, January 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich during a Knesset committee meeting, January 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich, who submitted the proposal, asserted that the new bill addresses the legal concerns raised regarding the earlier draft. Likud MKs David Bitan — who also serves as coalition chairman — and Yoav Kisch are also signatories on the proposal.

“It resolves all the legal problems that were raised [with the previous bill],” the spokesperson said.

There was no immediate response from the attorney general and it was not immediately clear whether the new measure would gain the necessary support needed to stave off the evacuation.

Under the new bill, unauthorized construction on privately owned Palestinian land will be legalized only if the residents can “prove government involvement,” Smotrich’s spokesperson said. “The law only applies to [places] where the government built,” he said.

Moreover, while Moalem-Refaeli’s bill allowed the government to appropriate land, the new draft only gives it the right to use the plots, while keeping the properties on the original landowners’ names, he said.

Amona, the largest outpost in the West Bank, which was established in 1997. (photo credit: Noam Moskowitz/Flash90, File)
Amona, the largest outpost in the West Bank, which was established in 1997. (photo credit: Noam Moskowitz/Flash90, File)

The state will compensate the owners financially or with alternate plots, according to their individual requests, the proposal stipulates. The state will also appoint an Israeli legal authority to deal with the lawsuits, it said.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Wednesday announced he would support the softened version of the bill.

“We cannot allow that Amona and Ofra, for which the danger of evacuation looms over them under the High Court’s instructions, become a precedent for destroying the settlements in Judea and Samaria,” Edelstein, who lives in a settlement south of Jerusalem, said in a statement. “I am hoping for a negotiated solution, and at the same time, we will advance the ‘regulation bill,’ in its moderate version, which was submitted today.”

Alongside Smotrich, the bill was also endorsed by Likud MK Kisch, who on Tuesday conceded that Amona would was liable to be evacuated by the December 25 court deadline.

Knesset Member Yoav Kisch at a Knesset committee meeting on June 14, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Knesset Member Yoav Kisch at a Knesset committee meeting on June 14, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“That’s the assessment as of now,” the Likud MK tweeted on Tuesday. “Update: I am leading, along with Smotrich, a legal process to prevent the evacuation,” he added. “It’s a dramatic process, and difficult to assess the chances [that it will be successful].”

The bill is expected to be debated by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation this upcoming Sunday or the following Sunday, according to the spokesperson for the Jewish Home lawmaker.

Last Sunday, the ministerial panel announced a week’s postponement for a vote on the earlier draft of the controversial bill. According to the Ynet news website, Sunday’s delay came after Mandelblit asked the committee to reject a vote on the legislation.

The postponement was announced after Netanyahu met with coalition leaders as well as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who had intended to bring the bill to the committee for a vote.

Earlier Sunday, a Likud minister told Army Radio that if a consensus on deferring the vote was not reached, Netanyahu’s cabinet would back the controversial legislation.

View of a street and caravan homes at the Amona Jewish outpost in the West Bank, on July 28, 2016. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)
View of a street and caravan homes at the Amona Jewish outpost in the West Bank, on July 28, 2016. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

Meanwhile, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud), a member of the committee, announced Sunday she would support Moalem-Refaeli’s bill.

Amona, founded in 1995, is home to about 40 families. It is the largest of about 100 unauthorized outposts — built without permission but generally tolerated by the government — that dot the West Bank. A partial evacuation a decade ago sparked violent clashes between residents and security forces and it is feared a new evacuation could trigger another showdown.

In 2008, a group of Palestinians represented by the Israeli rights group Yesh Din petitioned the Supreme Court claiming Amona settlers had encroached on their land and demanding the entire outpost be dismantled. The court petition set off a protracted legal battle that saw a number of proposed evacuation dates missed and repeatedly delayed until a final ruling in 2014 ordered the state to demolish the outpost by December 25, 2016. The state also agreed to compensate the landowners with about $75,000.

As a result of the court ruling, various alternatives have been raised by politicians, including Moaelem-Refaeli’s so-called regulation bill, which proposes the Palestinian owners whose lands have been appropriated for settlements or outposts receive alternate plots of land in the West Bank, in addition to financial compensation amounting to 50 percent of the land’s value.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting in the Knesset, July 18, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting in the Knesset, July 18, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A similar law to recognize outposts was knocked down in its preliminary reading in the Knesset in 2012, after Netanyahu opposed it and threatened to fire any minister or deputy minister who voted in favor.

Nonetheless, the bill was given new life in September with a petition signed by 25 of the 30 Likud Knesset members, including top ministers, backing it.

Other alternatives proposed by the government to the Amona evacuation have included the replication of the outpost on nearby plots whose owners are not known.

The government also approved the construction of nearly 100 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Shiloh to compensate homeowners of Amona, drawing a furious response from Washington.

AP contributed to this report.

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