Barak: Settler homes at Ulpana must go

Habayit Hayehudi chairman warns his 3 MKs will leave coalition if state demolishes outpost.

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 defended the state’s pledge to the High Court of Justice to remove 30 homes at the Ulpana outpost by the end of this month.
“The state has promised that if it is found that the homes are built on private Palestinian land, they will be removed,” he said.
He spoke in the aftermath of a stormy political weekend, in which politicians warned that the coalition would fall if the homes were demolished.
On Sunday, Habayit Hayehudi chairman Daniel Herschkowitz warned that his three MKs would leave the coalition if the state moved against Ulpana.
“There is no way that hill will be evacuated while this government still stands,” he said. “If we cannot stop the demolition, the coalition will fall apart and bring early elections.”
Herschkowitz called for action, not just words, on the first day of his party’s pre-primary membership drive.
At a Likud ministerial meeting, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asked his party’s ministers to tone down their rhetoric, adding that it was inflaming rather than helping the situation.
Ministers who had previously issued statements quieted down for the rest of the day. No ministers appeared at a meeting of Likud party activists, including members of the central committee, which was held Sunday evening outside at Ulpana.
Barak told reporters in Jerusalem on Sunday that options existed to help the 30 Ulpana families who live on the outskirts of the Beit El settlement. There are 22 dunams of lands elsewhere in the settlement, which could be developed as alternative homes for the families.
It was important, Barak said, to respect the rule of law and to hold to the principle that Israeli homes should not be built on private Palestinian property, unless they had been legally purchased.
Ulpana residents have said that the property was legally purchased by the Yeshiva in Beit El along with the company Amana, which operates as the construction arm of the settlement movement.
But the state and the court system have yet to recognize the legality of that sale.
He explained that the removal date had been set by the state and had not been mandated by the court. But, Barak said, it is important to uphold the rule of law. Should the sale be recognized as legal, obviously that would change the fate of the homes, he added.
Barring that, he said, the only options available were to remove the homes or to compensate the Palestinian owners, who have petitioned the High Court against the outpost.
“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 Ulpana.”
The defense minister said that the government was in the process of clarifying legal issues with regard to the homes in Ulpana with the the attorney-general’s office. He noted that people have been living in the homes for a long time and that the people who either rented them or had purchased them had not understood that there were legal issues involved.
“This neighborhood has been around from the time I was prime minister,” Barak said.
Netanyahu had said he would prefer to find a legal solution that would avoid the demolition of the homes.
He reiterated this point at a Likud ministerial meeting on Sunday, prior to the governmental meeting. Discussions were ongoing on this issue with the Justice Ministry and the Defense Ministry, he said.
Still, with just a week left to go until the state-imposed deadline, the state has yet to request an extension from the court.
Vice Premier Silvan Shalom posted a message on his Facebook page that said, “we will continue to work to find a solution to keep the neighborhood where it is and its residents in their homes.” The settlement movement is a key component of the Likud party, and evacuating the homes is simply not an option, Shalom added. He is expected to visit the neighborhood this Wednesday.
MK Danny Danon (Likud) has called for the Likud convention to take place at the end of this month, as scheduled.
No official date for has been set for the 90-day convention, which elects the head of the central committee and its subcommittees.
According to Danon, the conference must be called for May, to “define the values that will lead the Likud in matters of settlement in Judea and Samaria.”
Danon is running for leader of the Likud central committee against Government Services Minister Michael Eitan and Netanyahu, the likely winner.
Danon has been campaigning for the position by highlighting his pro-settlement bona fides and saying that Netanyahu plans to save a place for Barak on the Likud’s Knesset candidates list in the next election.
“There is no reason to postpone the convention,” Danon said. “Only calling the convention immediately will reflect what our party wants. I have received many positive responses; soon hundreds of Likud central committee members will relay the message that they want the convention to be held imminently.”
He was also among a number of Likud parliamentarians including Ophir Akunis, Miri Regev, Yariv Levin, Ze’ev Elkin and Tzipi Hotovely who spoke at the Likud party meeting at Ulpana on Sunday evening.
Left-wing leaders, meanwhile, charged back at the Right, with the Meretz chair saying that a government that ignores the High Court 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 ministers 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.