Court to hear outpost evacuation plan

Both settlers and Peace Now expect more delays in proposal due to negotiations over status of sites.

By
September 10, 2007 07:29
Court to hear outpost evacuation plan

ginot arieh outpost. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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In a move that has caught settlers by surprise, the state is expected to update the High Court of Justice Monday on its plan to evacuate a number of unauthorized outposts which have sprung up across the West Bank hills in the last decade. It is unclear how many of the 105 such outposts would be included in that plan, although many reports have focused on a group of 26, which includes 24 outposts established after former prime minister Ariel Sharon took office in 2001. Settlers and Peace Now had anticipated the state would seek yet another delay based on information they had initially received from the Defense Ministry, which is formulating the plan. The Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip has published a warning on its Web site that in lieu of a comprehensive plan, the court on Monday could order the evacuation of Migron, which was built in 2002 and is the largest outpost established during Sharon's tenure. Migron has 43 families, most of whom live in caravans. There are also four stone buildings, a playground, a bus stop and a paved road leading up to the site of Migron, in the Judean hills outside the settlement of Kochav Ya'acov. There is even a green sign on the main road to let motorists know where the outpost is located. Settlers told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that they believed a comprehensive plan could not be given at this time, because the government had been engaged in a series of negotiations with them to settle the issue of the 105 outposts as outlined in the 2005 report by attorney Talia Sasson. As part of that agreement, outposts built on state land would be legalized, and other outposts constructed on land clearly belonging to the Palestinians, such as Migron, would be moved to legal areas in Judea and Samaria, which Israel would likely retain in a final-status solution with the Palestinians. The ability of the state to finalize all the details of such an agreement is based in part on the work of the ministerial outpost committee, which met for the first time this month after more then a year of inactivity. The committee aims to set guidelines for legal construction in Judea and Samaria by mid-November. Those criteria would then be used to help evaluate the status of the outposts and determine whether some of them could be moved. But in spite of this, the Justice Ministry on Sunday said the court expected to receive a response from the state on the outpost issue. MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), a liaison between the prime minister and the settlers, said that while the issue of the outposts would be best dealt with through a negotiated deal, it was possible to formalize a plan for those outposts clearly built on Palestinian land, before the committee completed its work. Still, Peace Now's Yaariv Oppenheimer said he was skeptical that the response would tackle the issue and was more likely to constitute yet another delay as the state sought to formulate an overall plan for the outposts. Peace Now attorney Michael Sfard said the final state plan that would eventually be submitted to the court would deal with all 105 unauthorized outposts - even though defense officials told The Jerusalem Post earlier this month that they were drawing up plans to evacuate 26 outposts, including those 24 the cabinet voted to evacuate in 2005 and which Israel promised the US it would remove. The latter list includes the outposts of Avigail, Asael, P'nei Adam in the Binyamin Region, Gilad near Kedumim, Kida near Shevut Rachel, Ma'aleh Rehavam near Tekoa, and Migron. In addition, the Maon farm is reported to be on the list, even though it was established at its current site, just outside the Maon settlement, in 1999. The state's expected response to the High Court is part of an ongoing series of petitions submitted by Peace Now in an attempt to force the Defense Ministry to take action against the outposts. Peace Now has asked the state to demolish the 17 permanent homes built at the Hayovel outpost, which was established in 1998, and the eight permanent homes at the Haresha outpost, which was established in late 1997. It also asked the court to authorize the demolition of Migron, which, according to Sfard, is built on Palestinian land and cannot be legalized. In June, the court ordered the Defense Ministry to come up with a plan to evacuate outposts, including Migron, by July 8 - a move that was then delayed until Monday. In light of press reports of a deal with settlers and in advance of a possible decision on Migron, the Council of Jewish Communities has published articles about the outposts in its weekly newsletter. It has opened up the possibility that some would need to be relocated, even as it has sought to assure settlers that any action the council took would be done with an eye toward strengthening the settlement movement in Judea and Samaria. It has noted that it had not initiated the topic of an outpost deal with the government and the Defense Ministry, but rather that it was responding to a threat facing all the outposts. It feared that if it did not act and talk with the government, many of them would be taken down. The council said it believed that many outposts could be legalized, and it assured the settlers that no deal would be finalized until it had been presented to the residents of the outposts involved. It added that if outposts were evacuated, those areas would not be given to Palestinians, but would remain in the hands of Jews, one way or another. In her report, Sasson said she was only able to verify 26 outposts as clearly located on state land. Another 15 outposts were clearly located on Palestinian private property, she said. Seven outposts were on land whose origins were still under surveillance, she said, and another 39 were located on land of mixed state and Palestinian ownership. She added that there were 18 outposts for which she could not determine ownership.•

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