PM, Bennett offer Amona families relocation deal

‘We feel the injustice and the pain of the residents,’ Bayit Yehudi leader says

December 12, 2016 15:46

‘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)

In hope of avoiding a violent evacuation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday offered the 40 families living in the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona a new relocation deal.

Their acceptance of the deal is seen as critical to the success of the state’s planned petition to the High Court of Justice asking it to delay until January 25 the demolition of the outpost, which the High Court ordered done by December 25.

Bennett met with Amona residents at the Knesset in the evening and gave them an initial presentation of the new option.

The families said that they need more information about the deal.
Israeli legislators advance revised bill to legalise settlements

“At this stage we are waiting for the full details of the compromise, details that are expected to come from the Defense Ministry, so that we can react substantively to the proposal.

Without those details, we will not be able to respond,” the Amona families said in a statement.

The plan involves moving their homes to nearby land on the same hilltop that is classified as abandoned property.

According to Bennett, this is a new and improved version of a deal previously rejected by the Amona families.

“We’ve succeeded in formulating a good compromise using abandoned property in a way that meets our goal of leaving Amona on the same hilltop,” Bennett said, as he announced the plan at the start of his Bayit Yehudi faction meeting in the Knesset.

“This is a new draft agreement that provides a horizon for a longer period and involve a large area [of land] that includes all of the families and gives them potential to expand in the future.”

“I want to emphasize that the relocation of any community is an injustice and we feel the pain of the residents,” he said.

Still, Bennett added, it would be a success if Amona were to remain on its hilltop and the settlement bill moving forward.

The Amona families are tentatively scheduled to meet with Netanyahu to discuss the matter on Tuesday, before the prime minister leaves the country for a brief visit to Azerbaijan.

Diplomatically, Netanyahu would be helped by an agreement for the Amona families to peacefully relocate, and by a court decision to delay the evacuation by a month.

This would give lawmakers more time to debate the settlement bill, which would retroactively legalize 4,000 settler homes built on private Palestinian property, while offering the Palestinian landowners compensation.

The bill excludes Amona, but lawmakers still passed it in its first reading in order to beat the December 25 demolition deadline and help ensure a peaceful evacuation.

Netanyahu does not want lawmakers to bring the bill to a second and third reading until after President-elect Donald Trump takes office on January 20.

Passage of the bill in December is likely to strengthen the possibility of UN Security Council action against Israel this month. Both New Zealand and the Palestinians have resolutions pending before the UNSC, which could discuss the New Zealand resolution as early as Tuesday.

A special joint Knesset committee meeting about the settlement bill on Monday received a classified closed-door briefing from top government legal officials on the dangers the bill may present diplomatically and legally.

Among the officials presenting the dilemmas – including threats from the International Criminal Court and diplomatic threats – were Deputy- Attorney General for International Affairs Roy Schondorf and Defense Ministry legal adviser Ahaz Ben-Ari, among others.

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and others have warned that the bill could lead to problems with the ICC and in the diplomatic arena.

Netanyahu has spoken of this in closed-door meetings, but was pressured by his party to move forward with the bill.

Still, the closed-door presentation was considered a significant moment in the debate, after the bill has already passed its first reading. Joint committee head Nissan Slomiansky said during the public portion of the committee meeting that he does not know of any formal decision to postpone the law until Trump takes office.

At the same time and with seeming contradictions, Slomiansky said, “This law is not a simple law. I will not say that this is the redemption. I know about the anxieties and the balance between the concerns and the benefits – if something else is not found, I will take the option despite the concerns. I repeat and state that I am ready to drop this bill if other alternatives are provided.”

Some in Israel fear that passing the bill into law before Trump takes office could risk a particularly severe response from the Obama administration in its waning days.

Slomiansky also suggested a change in the bill: to strike the term “Israeli” in describing the law’s application. Currently, the bill reads that it would apply to “Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria.” The change would make it merely apply to “settlements in Judea and Samaria.”

Those opposing the law said the change is an attempt to conceal that the bill is an illegal land-grab, by making it sound as if it somehow benefits both Israeli and Palestinian West bank residents, when it really only benefits Israelis.

Slomiansky said he is fine with the word “Israeli,” but wanted to drop it in case those opposed to the settlements might interpret the word as referring only to outposts that were pre-authorized.

In contrast, the goal of the bill is to retroactively legalize thousands of Israeli homes in outposts that were built on private Palestinian land without authorization, but which later received indirect government support in the form of electricity and water hook-ups.

Following the committee meeting, the plenum was due to discuss the bill, and the committee planned an additional late night meeting if necessary.

There is no final date for the second and third readings, but it is not expected to return to the Knesset plenum for any votes this week. A rally in support of the Amona outpost is planned for Jerusalem’s Paris Square on Tuesday evening.

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