The evacuation of the West Bank Amona outpost could harm Israel diplomatically, the state told the High Court of Justice on Monday, as it asked it to leave intact the small unauthorized hilltop community of 42 families.
“The upper echelon has assessed that that the evacuation of an outpost on this magnitude could harm diplomatic interests at this time,” the state said.
Its response to the court was issued in the midst of renewed negotiations with the Palestinians toward a final status solution by the end of March.
It is the first time in the last few years that the state has spoken of the outpost evacuation within diplomatic terms.
The High Court in 2012 ruled that the outpost should be evacuated because it was built without proper permits on private Palestinian property.
Created in 1995, the outpost is located on the outskirts of the Ofra settlement in the Binyamin region of the West Bank.
Since the 2012 ruling the Amona families have told the state that they purchased from Palestinians the land on which 16 of the community’s homes are located.
In an obscurely worded ruling in July, the High Court said in response that the structures located on plots settlers claimed to have purchased could remain, pending the adjudication of their claims before the Jerusalem’s Magistrates Court. The structures in Amona on property against which there are no purchase claims must be removed, the court said.
The court did not state how many structures should be removed and how many could remain.
The families have claimed that the introduction of the purchase claims changed the nature of the case. According to the Amona community, the case is now about these 16 homes and the other 30 structures that make up the outpost are no longer part of this case and as such can remain.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein has written a letter backing that claim, stating that all that needed to happen until the case is adjudicated is from one home and a 40 meter stretch of road to be relocated.
The Amona community has abided by this decision.
But non-profit group Yesh Din took issue with Weinstein’s interpretation. It had petitioned the High Court against the outpost in 2008. It did so on behalf of Palestinian landowners and for representatives of three villages, whose residents owned the land on which Amona was constructed.
But although the 30 structures were built on private Palestinian property, the owners of that land were not part of the petition.
Yesh Din turned back to the court and asked it to clarify its ruling. In August, the court said the case was against the entire outpost and as such, the 30 structures should be removed.
But it gave the state and the families the right to respond to that ruling.
The state on Monday asked the court for a hearing to present its case that the 30 structures should not be removed, an act, which in effect would leave the outpost intact until the completion of the case before the Magistrate’s court.
The state said it looks to see if a property owner exists that has been harmed when it considers where to place the demolition of an illegal structure on its priority list, particularly with regard to old construction as opposed to a newly built illegal structure, it said.
It noted that with regard to the 30 structures, there was no specific property owner only the general claim that the land belonged to private Palestinians.
It added that “the subject of building in the area [Judea and Samaria] is at the heart of diplomatic discourse and relations.”
The government’s policy with respect to actions that change the status quo on the ground are weighted against wide diplomatic and security interests, it said. Such considerations could be pushed aside in consideration of harm to a specific individual, but that was not a factor here, the state said.
It added that there were many structures in Judea and Samaria with a similar status and that the demolition of the Amona homes could have implications for the future of those buildings as well.