Ministers meet to discuss fate of Ulpana outpost

Rivlin says a just solution must be legislated for the outpost slated for demolition; Gal-On says move encourages lawbreakers; Knesset members are expected to attempt retroactively legislate authorization of the outpost.

Ulpana outpost near Beit El 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)
Ulpana outpost near Beit El 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened a special ministerial meeting on the fate of the Ulpana outpost Friday morning in Jerusalem
Participants in the meeting included: Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Kadima party chairman Shaul Mofaz and Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein, as well as representatives of the IDF's Civil Administration.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin said a law dealing with the outpost must do so justly, noting that illegal Beduin towns in the South were handled similarly.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On, however, blasted the attempts to sidestep the High Court ruling. Asserting the government of favoring settlers, she told Israel Radio, "The rest of the Israeli population does not get special laws.
Retroactive legalization, she continued, encourages hilltop youth -- young radical settlers who set up unauthorized outposts -- to defy the law in the knowledge that their actions can later be legalized.
Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said the government must pass a law to circumvent the High Court decision to demolish the outpost.
Ulpana and the finding a replacement for the "Tal Law," the foreign minister said, are the two most important tests of the new coalition's worth, speaking to reporters in Jerusalem.
“The residents living on the Ulpana Hill are law-abiding citizens and fulfill all their obligations: They serve in the IDF and do reserve duty, they work and pay taxes,” Liberman explained. “This is not an illegal outpost; it is the government’s mistake.”
In a last-ditch effort to save 30 Ulpana outpost homes from demolition, two parliamentarians plan to ask the Knesset next week to approve legislation to retroactively authorize the structures located on the outskirts of the West Bank settlement of Beit El.
Both MKs, National Union Party head Ya’acov Katz and Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) plan to present separate bills on the matter, for which they believe there is majority support.
It is unclear if bills will be presented to the plenum on Monday or Wednesday. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin has yet to place them on the schedule. The vote is considered a preliminary reading, after which the bills must move to committee and return to the plenum.
The timing was inspired by last Monday’s High Court of Justice ruling ordering the state, by July 1, to demolish the 30 Ulpana homes, which were constructed without the proper permits on land classified by the state as private Palestinian property.
But the bills deal with the larger issue of unauthorized outposts. If the plenum passes the bills and they survive judicial challenges, the legislation would transform dozens of fledgling hilltop communities into new legal settlements under Israeli law.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has yet to publicly state his opinion on the matter.
On Thursday, the Makor Rishon newspaper published details of a conversation between Netanyahu and Rivlin on the matter. According to the paper, Netanyahu told Rivlin that he would free coalition members to vote with their conscience, rather than opposing the legislation has he has done in the past.
An official in the Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu was looking at different options within the framework of the law.
Orlev told The Jerusalem Post he believes that there is enough support to pass the bills.
On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told journalists that he supported legislation to authorize the outposts.
Katz’s bill seeks legislation for those West Bank outposts constructed with governmental funds or initial technical approvals. In instances where such fledgling settler communities were built on private Palestinian land, it suggests compensating landowners rather than evacuating outpost residents.
The legislation would also retroactively legalize homes within West Bank settlements.
Katz’s spokesman said he believed that some 9,000 already existing structures would be impacted by the bill.
Peace Now Executive Director Yariv Oppenheimer said that the bills were a test case for the new national unity coalition.
The question, he said, is whether the parliamentarians will support “land theft” or reject the bills and show “they are committed to the basic principles of democratic life and rule of law.”
Tovah Lazaroff and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.