Likud politicians pressure Netanyahu to legalize 2,000 settler homes

Amona (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Most Likud politicians and ministers have called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to support legislation to retroactively legalize 2,000 unauthorized settler homes in West Bank settlements and outposts.
On Saturday night 25 out of the 30 Likud politicians signed a petition that called for the Knesset to approve a bill — called the Regulations Act — that authorizes the homes, including all 40 of the modular homes in the Amona outpost which the High Court of Justice has ordered must be razed by the end of the year.
Nine out of 10 Likud ministers are also among the signatories. Minister-without-portfolio Tzahi HaNegbi did not sign, nor did Likud parliamentarian Benny Begin, Anat Berko and Avi Dichter.
The Bayit Yehudi party has also stated its support for the legislation.
The petition stated that the politicians wanted to “prevent an ethical, humanitarian and social injustice crisis, which would be created by the evacuation of hundreds and thousands of families who built their houses with the help and assistance of the government of Israel.”
It places the Likud politicians at odds with Netanyahu, who in the past has shied away from such legislation, preferring instead to seek alternative solutions. He has yet to state a public opinion on the issues, and he is under increased international pressure not to take such action.
The Likud petition also puts the party at odds with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who has already stated that the legislation is unconstitutional.
Likud politicians had initially drafted the bill, but then removed it from consideration because it had not yet received the support of Netanyahu and because Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman had appeared to offer an alternative solution.
Liberman had wanted to seize nearby abandoned Palestinian property, so that he could relocate the outpost to an alternative spot, very close to where Amona is now, on the outskirts of the Ofra settlement.
Palestinians have since turned to the Civil Administration to claim ownership of 24 out of 35 property lots in question. Initial attempts to make use of the remaining 11 lots for the relocation of the outpost have not yet proved to be successful, in part because the access road would have to be built on private Palestinian property. Some of the property lots in question are also not contiguous to one another.
A meeting on Thursday with Mandelblit and the Civil Administration did not resolve the matter.
Coalition Chairman MK David Biton (Likud), who favors legislation on the homes, but whose name was not on the petition, said that the only way forward is to authorize all the homes at once.
In cases where the homes in question are built on private Palestinian property, such as Amona, the legislation offers to compensate the land owners.
Without such legislation, he said, the HCJ will become a tool by which to “evacuate Judea and Samaria,” he said.
Aside from Amona, the HCJ has ordered the demolition of nine homes in the Ofra settlement in February 2017 and 15 homes in the Derech Ha’avot outpost in 2018. In those two cases, the homes were also built on private Palestinian property.
The issue of retroactive legalization was raised on Thursday at the United Nations Security Council.
US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said that her country was concerned by the “Israeli government’s attempts to retroactively legalize outposts illegal under Israeli law.
“These cases represent unprecedented and troubling steps that are inconsistent with prior Israeli legal opinions. The cases also run counter to longstanding Israeli official policy not to seize privately-owned land – or use land originally seized for military purposes – for settlements.”
Amona was built in 1995 with a NIS 2.1 million grant from the Ministry of Construction and Housing, even though it had no permits and was on property considered by the state to belong to private Palestinians.
Amona residents have argued that the grant signified an initial promise by the government to authorize the outpost and that the families moved there believing that the state intended to legalize it. They have called on the government to make good on that promise.
The outpost is best known for the violent clashes that broke out there in February 2006, when security forces carried out a court order to demolish nine permanent homes that were built without permits on private Palestinian property.
The non-governmental group Yesh Din has since then petitioned the HCJ against the entire outpost, securing a 2014 ruling for its demolition.
Among the 25 signatories to Saturday’s petition were most of the top politicians in the party: Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Infrastructure, Energy, and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz, Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Welfare Minister Haim Katz, Culture Minister Miri Regev, Science Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis, and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.