Amona settlers reject state's 'Swiss cheese' relocation offer

The offer, proposed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was to relocate the homes to abandoned Palestinian property on the same hilltop.

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December 15, 2016 04:31
3 minute read.
Amona

‘THERE WILL be war over Amona,’ the graffiti reads at the outpost in the Binyamin region of Samaria in the West Bank. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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Shortly after midnight, Wednesday, the 40 Amona families rejected a last minute compromise relocation plan which the state had offered them in hopes of avoiding a violent evacuation.

The offer, proposed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was to relocate the homes to abandoned Palestinian property on the same hilltop, where the West Bank outpost of Amona is currently located.

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Families living in Amona said  they had been prepared to accept a serious offer by the state that involved rebuilding all their homes on the same hilltop and promise not to destroy the current structures until the new ones had been completed.

Instead the state's offer was so full of holes it was like "Swiss Cheese" and provided a solution for only a quarter of the families, the Amona residents said.
Amona resident on importance of settlements 'we're not occupying'

The state was not able to promise that permanent homes could be built on the hilltop, they said.

"We have learned from experience not to believe promises which are not backed by commitments," they wrote in a statement they released to the media.  "Therefore we will continue being true to our original goal...After ten hours of deliberation we have decided by a clear majority to reject the offer given to us."

"We the residents of Amona, came here as young couples many years ago," the residents statement read, "it was in Amona that we built our homes, our lives and raised our children."



"All our memories were formed in Amona," they wrote "during the last year we have fought our lives battle with one goal - keeping our homes."

The Amona residents admitted that their battle had yielded a number of positive results for the communities in Judea and Samaria, primarily the settlements bill which has passed the first reading in the Knesset, and which is now in the midst of preparation for a second and third reading.

The bill retroactively legalizes 4,000 homes on private Palestinian property while offering the Palestinian land owners compensation.

At the request of the Kulanu party, the Amona homes were removed from the bill because the High Court of Justice had  ruled in 2014 that the outpost must be demolished by December 25, 2016 because they were built without permits on private Palestinian property.

From the start the Amona families had argued that the outpost was also built with an initial nod of approval from government officials, including the Ministry of Housing and Construction which had provided it with a NIS 2.1 million grant.

They had insisted that the state had an obligation to authorize their homes and all other such structures.

Failing that, they warned, they planned to resist the evacuation. Their words have carried weight because of the violent clashes that occurred at the outpost in 2006, when security forces carried out a High Court of Justice ruling and destroyed nine homes in the outpost.

In the last couple of week, teenagers and young adults have hiked to the outpost in solidarity, with an eye to helping the families resist the evacuation.

Temporary structures have been built to help house them. Graffiti on many of the structures states, "there will be a war over Amona."

If the Amona families had accepted the offer, the state had intended to turn to the High Court of Justice to request that the evacuation be delayed by a month, until January 25.

Speculation is now high the security forces could move to evacuate the outpost sooner than the December 25 deadline.

A government official responded by saying that there would not be another offer and that the one they had received was "the best there could be."

Bayit Yehudi MK Bezalel Smotrich said he was both saddened and inspired by the Amona residents' rejection of the deal.

"As public servants, our obligation was to try and reach the best possible framework and bring it before the residents, and that is what we did," Smotrich said. "I thought the residents should have accepted the deal, but I respect their decision and I am impressed by their and determination."

Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern said it pained him that the residents "decided to cause an unnecessary conflict with security forces." 

Ariel Whitman and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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