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(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Over the objections of the 46 families who live in the unauthorized Migron outpost, the Defense Ministry plans to move their small hilltop community to the nearby settlement of Adam, just northeast of Jerusalem on the way to Ramallah.
No date has been set for the move. For months there have been hints that Adam (also known as Geva Binyamin) would be the relocation site, but the decision to implement the plan was taken only on Monday, during a meeting between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
The two men met a day before the High Court of Justice was due to hold a hearing on the matter. But even as they spoke, the state asked the court on Tuesday to delay the hearing for two weeks.
Moving Migron is high on the government's priority list, because it is one of the largest of the 101 unauthorized West Bank outposts and because the government believes that its modular homes are located on privately owned Palestinian land.
The petitioners in the case, Peace Now and Palestinians land owners, oppose the two-week delay.
For close to two years, the court has refused to rule definitely on Migron, said the petitioners' attorney, Shlomo Zecharya. In the interim more buildings have been added and existing ones enlarged, he said.
The continual delays only "strengthen the message that the Israeli government is afraid to confront the law-breakers and prefers to drag its feet, even at the price of violating its obligation to protect the rights of the petitioners," Zecharya wrote in a letter to the state's representative, attorney Aner Hellman.
Peace Now's Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer said his group planned to ask the High Court to set a final date for the evacuation of Migron.
"We are concerned that this [announced move to Adam] is only a trick to gain more time," said Oppenheimer. In addition, he said, he feared the relocation would in effect create a new settlement.
But a government source said that nothing would be done that would violate the existing policy that forbade the creation of new settlements or the outward extension of existing settlements.
Constructed in 1984 and located a few kilometers from Jerusalem's Pisgat Ze'ev neighborhood but beyond the West Bank security barrier, Adam is home to some 3,500 people.
It has both secular and religious residents, and was named after Maj.-Gen. Yekutiel Adam, a former deputy chief of General Staff who had been killed two years earlier at Beaufort Castle in Lebanon.
Already in July the Adam Council voted to accept the Migron families and to work with the government to relocate them, council head Nissim Dahan said.
While he is of the belief that Migron should remain at its current location, if the government planned to move it, Adam would be happy to host the new community, he said.
The move is good news for Adam, which has worried about its future given that it is located outside the security barrier. Only two months ago, Vice Premier Haim Ramon said the barrier was Israel's new eastern border.
This latest step, however, was "a recognition by the government that the settlement is indeed part of Israel," Dahan said.
But although Barak and Olmert formalized the decision on Monday, they did not inform Dahan or his council of their move.
"No one has spoken to us," Dahan said.
An adviser to Barak visited them two weeks ago, however, and spoke with him about the possibility and told them the Migron families would be relocated to Adam East, Dahan said. The adviser hinted that as part of the construction of new homes for the Migron families, the settlement could also receive a new road, additional infrastructure and perhaps authorization for as many as 1,500 new apartment units, Dahan said.
The Defense Ministry told The Jerusalem Post it had not promised Adam additional housing units.
Outside of Adam, none of the other settlers involved in the matter were formally told of the decision, although they said they had known that Adam was the state's preferred location.
"It's nothing very dramatic," said Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. Three months ago his council voted to approve moving Migron to a nearby legalized location in the West Bank.
So Monday's decision was simply another step in the process, said Dayan. He added that his council had yet to agree on its preferred option for relocating Migron.
But Avi Ro'eh, chairman of the Binyamin Regional Council, to which both Migron and Adam belong, said he objected to the Adam move, preferring instead to see the families relocate down the hill, next to a new winery under construction across the road from the gas station off of Route 60.
"But it doesn't matter because the whole process will take years to sort out," Ro'eh said.
Up on Migron, the families are so determined to stay put that they oppose even Ro'eh proposal to move them down the hill.
Although a voluntary move is the essence of the deal reached in August regarding Migron between state and Dayan's council, the Migron families have yet to agree to any relocation.
Dayan has argued that throughout the history of the settlement enterprise, boundaries have been adjusted to require families to move to alternative locations. What is happening here, he has said, is that by relocating slightly, a way has been found to legalize Migron's status.
But Migron spokesman Gideon Rosenfeld said the homes on their hilltop were already legal, despite the High Court ruling to the contrary.
To agree to move even a short distance would be tantamount to admitting that their presence there was illegal, he said. "The land in Judea and Samaria is ours," said Rosenfeld.
He feared relocating would create a domino effect and that the legalized settlements of Ofra and Beit El would be next.
"Where would it stop?" he asked.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
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