Barak: Rule of law must prevail in Ulpana outpost

Defense minister responds to chorus of criticism on instructions to demolish Ulpana outpost, says alternative plots of land under consideration for moving outpost if necessary.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday shot back at right-wing ministers criticizing his response to a High Court order to evacuate the West Bank outpost of Ulpana, emphasizing that the rule of law is paramount in Israel.
"It must be understood that a government existing in a democratic nation in the 21st century cannot, on a fundamental and deep basis, function any other way," Barak told reporters. "At the end of the day we are responsible for the rule of law, we are responsible for Israel being a normative country among advanced nations and we are additionally responsible for somehow finding a solution for the Ulpana neighborhood."
The court ordered that 30 homes in Ulpana, adjacent to the Beit El settlement, be evacuated by the end of May because they were built on private land.
Before Passover, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he would ask Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to find a solution that would prevent the demolition of 30 apartment units at Ulpana, which was ordered by the High Court of Justice and upheld by the Defense Ministry.
Ministers have called on Netanyahu to support legislation that retroactively legalizes outposts on private Palestinian property, such as Ulpana, under certain circumstances.
A growing chorus of Likud voices spoke out against Barak over the weekend. Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) said Saturday that the defense minister has used unnecessary force to evacuate settlers, to “make sure the Left understands who its leader is,” and so that Barak’s Independence party will pass the 2 percent threshold to make it into the Knesset in the next election.
Ya’alon also warned that the coalition would fall apart if the government made good on its pledge to demolish the 30 homes in Ulpana.
"There is no way that the Ulpana will be evacuated under this government," Habayit Hayehudi party leader and Science and Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz said Sunday. "If we do not succeed in stopping the eviction, the issue will break up the coalition and lead to early elections."
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) called for removing Barak's authority over settlements in the West Bank and transferring them to a ministerial committee.
Speaking with Israel Radio, Erdan said he believed Barak's instructions to destroy the homes because they were built on Palestinian property were not in accordance with the views of the prime minister.
Barak said that the government was in the process of clarifying details on three sets of Beit El structures with judicial authorities: a handful of caravans set up outside the settlement, two unfinished buildings in a different part of the settlement, and the Ulpana outpost itself. Regarding Ulpana, Barak noted that people have been living in the homes for a long time and people rented them or acquired them in an appropriate manner. He added that the issue of ownership was still being looked into alongside the defense establishment and a group of ministers including Benny Begin.
"This neighborhood has been around from the time I was prime minister," Barak said, calling Beit El a "very important settlement." However, he continued, "neighborhoods or buildings located on private property will be evacuated."
Barak added that the government was checking the status of 22 dunams of land within the settlement that might be used to build substitute houses should residents have to be expelled.
Left-wing leaders, meanwhile, charged back at the Right, with the Meretz chair saying that a government that ignores the High Court of Justice and supports thievery should be dissolved.
"It's impossible that, again, such as in the case of the Hebron house, that now in the case of the Ulpana hilltop outpost senior government minister openly call for a revolt against the rule of law," Meretz chair MK Zehava Gal-On said, referring first to the government-ordered eviction of a group of Jewish residents from a home in the middle of a Palestinian neighborhood earlier this month.
"A government that wants to ignore the law and support robbery should be dissolved," she said.
Gal-On called on the attorney-general to "cease his silence," and ban government ministers from showing contempt for the court and ignoring its rulings.
A number of Likud ministers spoke out strongly over the weekend in favor of the outpost, and are expected to attend a meeting at Ulpana on Sunday evening along with hundreds of Likud central committee members.
Likud sources said other ministers had planned to attend the event, but would not be able to. Netanyahu called a meeting of his security cabinet for the same time, a move seen by some as an attempt to lower the profile of the event.
Tovah Lazaroff and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.