The newly created Ministerial Settlements Committee on Wednesday approved an agreement under which residents of five apartment buildings in the West Bank outpost of Ulpana will voluntary evacuate their homes by July 1.
“At the outset, we set two goals: Upholding the law and strengthening the settlement movement. This outline meets both of these,” said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who heads the committee. The agreement ends the prospect of violent forced evacuation on the outskirts of the Beit El settlement where Ulpana is located.
According to the agreement, 30 families who live in the apartment buildings, and an additional three who live in nearby caravans, will move into modular housing in the Beit El settlement within the next 10 days.
The High Court of Justice had ordered the buildings removed from the site by July 1 because they were built without proper permits on private Palestinian property. The state, however, now plans to tell the court that while the families will leave the site by July 1, it needs an extra three months to remove the buildings.
Instead of demolishing them, the state plans to relocate them to an alternative site in Beit El.
Removing them from Ulpana will take three months. The state needs an additional nine months to place them on the alternative land site.
“Basically they are taking them apart and putting them back together through an engineering process,” an official told The Jerusalem Post.
In addition, the ministerial committee examined plans to build an additional 300 housing units in Beit El. The 300 units are part of 851 settler homes, which Netanyahu approved earlier this month, as a message to left-wing groups such as Yesh Din, who had initially petitioned the court against the Ulpana homes.
While Netanyahu believes that unauthorized homes on private Palestinian property should be removed, he opposes attempts by left-wing groups to use the courts as a tool against the settlements.
At the ministerial committee, he spoke of the importance of Beit El to the state of Israel.
“In every possible outcome [of a final-status agreement with the Palestinians], Beit El will stay part of the State of Israel, for strategic reasons and for other reasons too,” Netanyahu said.
Ulpana residents agreed late Tuesday night to terms of the deal, which was hammered out with emissaries from the Prime Minister’s Office including Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, Cabinet Secretary Tzvika Hauser and Rabbi Zalman Melamed of Beit El.
In a press release to the media about the deal, the residents quoted a statement by Melamed in which he said that just as a father who lost a son can’t be compensated by 10 new ones, so too, “the pain of losing these [homes] won’t lessen and the stain [this action creates] on the government won’t lessen.”
In a media statement, Ulpana residents said they had agreed to voluntarily evacuate, because “we are peaceful people.”
They added that, “this battle between brothers is tearing apart the Israeli public in general, and our population in specific.”
Ulpana residents also said they believed they had secured an agreement with the Prime Minister’s Office that the state would change the implementation of its policy dictating that unauthorized construction on private Palestinian property must be removed. The change would be reflected in legal responses by the prosecutor’s office toward any future petitions on unauthorized settler construction.
In addition, they said, “the Prime Minister’s Office, the prosecutor’s office and the Defense Ministry won’t send out statements about absurd decisions to destroy developing neighborhoods and settlements.”
An Israeli official said that the government has not changed its policy with regard to the removal of unauthorized Jewish homes on private Palestinian property.
But an Ulpana resident noted that in the future, the newly created Ministerial Settlements Committee would formulate responses to the court. The committee, the source noted, had the authority to overturn or change the policy on homes on private Palestinian property.