Israel security and Civil Administration forces demolished three unlicensed structures in the Oz Zion outpost in the Judea and Samaria region just north of Ramallah overnight Monday. A group of local residents at the site protested the move, but no serious incidents were reported, according to Israel Radio.
According to Israeli media, the structures were erected illegally and had been issued demolition orders. The site has been declared a closed military zone.
Illegal outposts and their evacuation have become a bone of contention over the past year as the Israel Defense Forces, along with police and Civil Administration officials, have repeatedly tried to evict residents who seized the land without official approval. More than 20 illegal outposts -- communities established without government authorization, often on privately owned Palestinian land -- are scattered throughout the Judea and Samaria region. The Israeli government has on occasion tried to forcefully evacuate the residents in these communities, most notably in Amona in 2006, but a lack of resources, civil disobedience by residents and a desire to avoid political backlash have allowed some outposts to remain largely intact.
Last year, the High Court of Justice ruled that the largest such illegal outpost, Migron, had to be evacuated and demolished by the end of March this year. Minister Without Portfolio Benny Begin (Likud) -- considered an ally of Judea and Samaria residents -- has since engaged Migron residents on behalf of the government to reach an agreement that would have them voluntarily leave their homes and be relocated to state-owned land. In recent weeks the contours of a deal have emerged, which would move Migron to a nearby hilltop within about two years, after which the outpost would be handed over to Civil Administration authorities.
But in recent days Migron residents appear to have backed out of the deal, saying they want a guarantee that structures would not be demolished if it could be established they were not on Palestinian land. The Civil Administration, which oversees civilian matters in Judea and Samaria, has indicated that it cannot guarantee the continue existence of Migron even if some of the land is deemed government-owned.
Another issue that could potentially derail the deal is the date when Migron residents would relocate. State prosecutors insist that the move be carried out within the stipulated time frame of two and a half years, regardless of whether the new homes in the nearby community are ready.
In the event that an agreement is reached, the state plans to ask the court to extend the evacuation deadline until 2015. On Monday, Begin implored the residents to accept the deal. Saying that the deal had already gone through 11 different drafts, Begin said, “Every effort has been made to see what is permissible and possible in a way that complies with the court’s decision.”
Later, he told the Knesset plenum that the government had erred when it let residents occupy the land. “The decision to allow the establishment of Migron in its current location, with the encouragement of the government, was a mistake,” he said. But he cautioned against any hasty measures. Addressing Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On, Begin said, “You sometimes think that you can just uproot communities. This is not going to happen; we confront these issues by trying to make lemonade out of lemons.”
Meanwhile, MK Zevulun Orlev (New National Religious Party) is working to have the Knesset vote Wednesday on draft legislation that would in effect grant some outposts retroactive government approval. Coalition MKs Zeev Elkin (Likud) and Aryeh Eldad (National Union) called on the government Monday to “abide by the understanding it reached with the residents of Migron and not give in to the pressure from the Left and its settler-haters.”
Yariv Oppenheimer, general director of Peace Now, made a personal appeal to Migron residents Monday. In a two-minute video message posted online, Oppenheimer says, “I am a citizen of the state, just like you. I pay taxes, serve in the military and perform reserve service. Only if we agree on the rules of the game will we be able to have a united democratic society despite our differences.”