The IDF has begun the process of seizing abandoned private Palestinian property in the West Bank, so that it can relocate the 40 settler families who live in the Amona outpost, Peace Now said on Thursday.
The property lots in question are adjacent to Amona’s current location, on the outskirts of the Ofra settlement, in the Binyamin region of the West Bank.
The High Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that Amona must be evacuated by December 25, because it was built without permits on private Palestinian property.
With only five months left to that deadline, politicians are scrambling to find a way to save the outpost.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has argued that the law of abandoned property can be used to seize land that belongs to Palestinians who left the West Bank decades ago.
Right-wing politicians have thrown their support behind the families who insist that they do not want to leave their homes. The new location that Liberman has eyed, is just meters away from the old one.
It is presumed that the families would agree to his proposal.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has yet to rule on the legality of the matter, but last week he said that the Defense Ministry should work on that option, until he has issued a ruling.
On Thursday morning the office of the Custodian of Abandoned Property and the Civil Administration published an ad in Arabic in the Al-Quds newspaper that spokes of plans to seize the property. The ad provided a map, with the property lots in question. It added that Palestinians who can claim land ownership of those lots have 30 days to submit any objections.
The non-governmental group Peace Now, which had petitioned the High Court of Justice against the outpost, distributed a copy of the ad and paraphrased it in English.
“This is the crossing of a red line and a reversal of previous policies, including Likud governments' policies, according to which private lands cannot be used for the purpose of settlement,” Peace Now said.
“There is no dispute that Absentees' lands are private property and using them for the purpose of settlement will be considered illegal by legal advisors in Israel and abroad,” Peace Now stated.
It charged that, “in order to compensate a small group of settlers who stole private Palestinian lands, the Israeli government itself is now stealing private lands as well.
“The government's willingness to politically compensate the settlers of Amona is leading to devastating consequences on the ground and to the distortion of Israel's moral and legal systems,” Peace Now said.
According to Army Radio, under Liberman’s proposal, those abandoned lots would be rented to the Amona families and the funds put in escrow for the owners should they be found. The new homes would be constructed in such a way that they could be relocated in the future should the original property owners return.
Amona was built in 1995, with a NIS 2.16 million grant from the Ministry of Housing and Construction.
It is among the first of the some 100 outposts in the West Bank. Many of the small communities were constructed with initial nods of approval from government offices, but without final authorizations.
According to Peace Now, since 2009 Netanyahu has legalized some 20 outposts, which were built on state land.
Three of the outposts were retroactively legalized as settlements in 2012. The other 17 were authorized as neighborhoods of already existing settlements, Peace Now said.
Until now, Netanyahu’s policy has been to authorize those outposts that can be legalized and take down only those for whom no solution is available because they are built on private Palestinian property.
In 2012, upon orders from the High Court of Justice, the IDF relocated the Migron outpost. It also demolished five apartment buildings in the Ulpana outpost that each held six unit. The five families were relocated to the nearby Beit El settlement.
Amona is similarly on private Palestinian property and under threat from a ruling by the High Court of Justice that it must be demolished.
Mandelblit stated last week that this ruling must be carried out.
But the Amona families have argued that when the outpost was created the state led them to believe that it could be authorized and it must, therefore, find a way to prevent the demolition of their homes.
They have pointed out there are some 2,000 homes in Judea and Samaria that are built on private Palestinian property.
What happens with Amona, they have argued, has larger implications on the fate of those homes.
While right wing politicians have flocked to support Amona, the international community has spoken out against West Bank outposts, and settlement building in general.
In the last few months the United States and the European Union have spoken out strongly against retroactive legalization of settler homes, particularly with respect to the outposts.
Earlier this week MK Eitan Broshi [Zionist Union] visited the outpost, and in a rare move for someone from his left leaning party, issued a statement in support of legalizing the outpost.
As a former Defense Ministry advisor on settlement issues, Broshi said, he believed that it was the government’s responsibly to find a solution that would be acceptable to the Amona residents.
He called on is party to support any legal decision the government made in the matter.
This isn't a problem that is purely isolated to Amona, but rather one that deals with the future of the settlement movement, he said.