Israel’s War Against Palestine: Documenting the Military Occupation of Palestinian and Arab Lands

Amos Harel: Why Israel won’t evacuate West Bank outposts

7 July 2009

By Amos Harel, Haaretz – 7 July 2009

If George Mitchell, America’s special envoy to the Middle East, wants an advance estimate on the reliability of Israeli promises to evacuate outposts, he may find the High Court of Justice discussion on the outpost of Migron helpful.

The state’s request to be granted another year-long extension before having to evacuate the outpost by law offers a sad glimpse into the situation, and reveals the gaps between the official declarations of the Netanyahu administration and the actual law enforcement in the territories.

On Monday, the justices held yet another discussion on the petition filed by human rights group Peace Now and Arab land owners, seeking to have settlers removed from the area. While the court session was underway, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was meeting with Mitchell in another time zone. Alongside declarations on regional peace, Barak promised that 23 West Bank outposts would be evacuated within “weeks and months, not years.”
But the High Court heard prosecution representative Anar Hellman sing a completely different tune. According to Hellman, the state will require at least a year to prepare for the implementation of a compromise plan jointly devised by the Defense Ministry and the settler council Yesha. The plan calls for 50 new homes to be built in the adjacent settlement Adam for those who will be evacuated from Migron. The prosecution attorney promised that in a year’s time, the state will evacuate by force anyone who will refuse to leave peacefully.

In order to truly understand the state’s foot-dragging on the Migron issue, one must go back and look at the chronology of the case. Migron was established in early 2002, amid the height of a terror wave in the West Bank, on land that has always been under undisputed private Palestinian ownership. In October 2006 a petition was filed with the High Court seeking to compel the state to evacuate Migron. The state agreed that the outpost was in fact illegal, and that it would be evacuated, but did not specify a date for the evacuation.

Six months ago, Barak came to an understanding with the settlement council over the alternative housing in Adam. However, even if the state abides by the new timetable (and that would certainly be a precedent when it comes to outpost evacuation), Migron won’t be evacuated until the summer of 2010 at the earliest, 8 and a half years after the land was taken from its rightful owners.

Even this eventuality depends on two things: One, it is unlikely that all the residents of the outpost will agree to evacuate their homes willingly, and it is even more unlikely that the Yesha Council heads will agree to enforce a peaceful evacuation. Two, it is not certain that the Obama administration will agree to the compromise plan under which the Migron residents will be transferred to a settlement located east of the fence, in an area beyond the lines of the existing settlement border, in violation of old Israeli commitments to the U.S.

Maybe that is what Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch meant when she asked the attorney Hellman whether he thought the plan was feasible. The state’s representative answered optimistically, but it is not clear if he has good reason to be optimistic.

“The High Court is starting to bear its teeth ? as well it should,” said a senior legal official in regard to a separate security-related case that was recently discussed by the High Court of Justice. It may be that the justices are finally beginning to lose their patience in the face of the foot-dragging.

About a week ago the state was faced with the High Court’s skepticism, this time in regard to the route of the West Bank separation fence. A third petition is also currently on the agenda, also filed by Peace Now, seeking to compel the state to demolish permanent housing in various outposts. The case, filed in the summer 2005, is still under discussion.

Not just in the courts, but also on the ground, it is hard to see any real indication that the settlement enterprise is headed toward a freeze. Dror Etkes, the man behind the petitions, photographed construction in the outpost of Ali this week. In March, the court outlawed the continued paving of a road connecting Ali and the adjacent outpost Yuval, because it runs through private Palestinian land. The Civil Administration blocked the access to the unfinished road with mounds of rocks. But Etkes discovered that the settlers were one step ahead of the Civil Administration, and simply continued paving the road about a half a kilometer from there, at the other end.

Inside Ali, where construction is illegal right now, a new lot has been discovered being prepared for the erection of caravan homes. The Civil Administration has recently cracked down on the transport of caravan homes, but the settlers found a solution: now they transport the caravans in pieces, and then assemble them at the designated outpost under the noses of the authorities.

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