It is ironic that on the same day the government, for the first time, expressed its unambiguous determination to dismantle all the illegal outposts built since March 2001, the High Court of Justice should help the settlers undermine that resolve.
By ordering the government to hold off for a week before demolishing the illegal buildings in Amuna, the court has given the occupants of the buildings and their backers a much longer period of grace. It has paved the way for the settlers to petition the court against the demolitions, and as everyone knows, it takes the court time to hear and rule on petitions.
The Supreme Court of President Aharon Barak has taken pains over the years to give petitioners their day in court. Even when the outcome of the hearing was obvious, and even when petitions bordered on the outrageous, Barak has insisted that they be heard.
Having said that, the basic facts in the case of the Amuna construction are clear. Furthermore, they have already been brought to the attention of the court formally, through the petition submitted in July by Peace Now. Indeed, both sides to that petition, the state and Peace Now, agree that the buildings are illegal. In its most recent statement to the court, the state went into great detail to explain why.
It provided a precise timetable of events in the saga that began more than five years ago:
On July 18, 2000, inspectors discovered the settlers were carrying out earthwork to straighten the ground at the site where the buildings were eventually erected. The land was private land belonging to Palestinians. According to the local planning scheme, it was designated as agricultural land. The military government ordered the work to be stopped.
On April 18, 2004, military government inspectors noticed that construction at the site had resumed. They again ordered the work to stop and summoned the developers to a meeting of the Supreme Planning Council for the West Bank.
On May 4, 2004, the inspectors noticed that the work on the buildings was continuing.
On June 10, 2004, after the Mate Binyamin Regional Council asked for two postponements, the planning council met. Attorney David Rotem, representing Mate Binyamin, said his clients were in the process of purchasing the land and needed 30 more days to clinch the deal and register the new ownership. The planning council gave him 90 days.
On October 18, 2004, the planning committee reconvened. Rotem asked for 30 more days to obtain the registry papers. This time, the committee refused and issued a final demolition order. However, it gave the settlers 30 days to destroy the buildings themselves.
The settlers did not do so. On January 24, 2005, an inspector found an aluminium worker on the building site and ordered him to leave.
On February 13, 2005, the inspector noticed that construction was continuing. On May 15, he found building tools at the site.
Since the developers were violating the demolition order, the government formally decided to demolish the buildings on June 30, but added that it would wait to implement the order until after the disengagement.
On July 5, two days after Peace Now petitioned the High Court, settlers occupied some of the apartments in the buildings. The court ordered the state to remove them. The government warned the settlers that they would demolish the buildings if the occupants did not leave. They left on July 10.
On August 18, the Mate Binyamin Regional Council and the builders asked the court to join the petition as respondents. In a deposition submitted almost two months later, they again claimed they had made progress in registering the land in their names, but brought no proof.
On November 3, the Minister of Defense announced that the army would demolish the buildings by the end of January 2006.
On January 5, the new respondents reiterated that they were taking steps to purchase and register the land. The military commander rejected the statement and said previous claims that the settlers had bought the land were "imprecise."
On January 2, a group of settlers who allegedly purchased apartments in the buildings asked to join the petition as respondents. Meanwhile, some of the original occupants of the buildings returned to them in violation of the court order.
The High Court of Justice knows all these facts. Its policy throughout the years has been to accept official government statements as being true. Despite it all, it decided to give the settlers a week to bring their case to the court.
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