West Bank outpost set to survive Tuesday’s demolition deadline

West Bank outpost set to survive Tuesday’s demolition deadline

Supreme Court, in possible indicator of how it will handle the fate of Ulpana, gives government 60 days to address similar case in another part of Beit El settlement

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

A lawyer looks over a map of Beit El prior to a High Court hearing in 2012 (Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)
A lawyer looks over a map of Beit El prior to a High Court hearing in 2012 (Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)

The illegal Ulpana outpost in Beit El is likely to survive the May 1 deadline the Supreme Court had given the state for its demolition, according to the lawyer representing the Palestinian landowners in the case. A Supreme Court ruling on Sunday, giving the government a further 60-day period to tackle a dispute over two other Beit El buildings, may signal how the court will act over the Ulpana structures, the lawyer said.

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday told the State Prosecutor to petition the court to extend the Ulpana demolition order by 90 days to be able to review legal options to save the settlement’s 30 housing units slated for destruction. The move has been criticized by left-wing politicians and civil rights organizations, who said it showed the government’s contempt for the court, while right-wingers and settler representatives welcomed the move and said they were confident the court would rule in their favor.

Michael Sfard (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Michael Sfard (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

“I expect the Supreme Court to hand down a technical decision about Ulpana either by Monday or Tuesday,” Michael Sfard, the legal advisor for  the left-wing Israeli civil rights group Yesh Din, told The Times of Israel. Sfard represents the Palestinians who claim the Ulpana neighborhood was built illegally on land that belongs to them. “The court will likely not hand down a formal ruling on the case but will give out a new timeline and probably schedule a date for a hearing in court,” he added.

Before that hearing — and possible others — takes place, the court will let its original May 1 deadline for the outpost’s destruction pass, according to Sfard. Since it is possible that the court will uphold the government’s motion and allow it to look for ways to save Ulpana, it makes sense that the court will not force the government to carry out the destruction order while the motion is being debated in court, he added.

A spokesman for the Justice Ministry said it is up to the Supreme Court to decide when to respond to the government’s petition. “There are no dates and no deadlines,” the spokesperson said.

On Sunday, the Supreme Court debated a separate case regarding illegal constructions in Beit El, giving the government 60 days to tell the court when it will dismantle two unauthorized buildings. The government had, as in the Ulpana case, asked for a 90-day grace period. Sunday’s decision is relevant as it might offer a preview of how the court could rule regarding Ulpana’s future, Sfard said.

A government official close to Netanyahu told The Times of Israel: “There is no change in government policy: building illegally on private land is unacceptable. But there are a couple of issues with regards to Ulpana and the government needs to be able to act flexibly in terms of timing, and needs to be able to prioritize.”

Harel Kohen, the spokesman of the Ulpana outpost, said he hoped the judges would grant the government’s request for more time to find ways to avoid demolishing the buildings there. “It’s absurd to uproot an entire neighborhood; in the free world such things aren’t done. It’s clear that Ulpana won’t be dismantled.”

Sfard, on the other hand, said it was entirely unclear whether the court would uphold its previous demolition order or allow the state to look for further ways to save Ulpana.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” he said. “We’re witnessing a huge clash between the executive and the judiciary branches. There is no precedent of a government canceling a Supreme Court decision to go back on a commitment it took upon itself,” he added, referring to Netanyahu’s pledge to honor the court’s ruling regarding illegal settlements.

“I’m deeply concerned that if the motion is upheld this will be a huge blow to the rule of law in this country,” Sfard added. “A society where the rule of law is no longer upheld is an endangered society, if the government can effectively overturn a court decision.”

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