Settlers: Migron’s last stand?

The landmark ruling by the High Court of Justice demanding that the state remove Migron could have far-reaching implications.

311 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
"Migron: Everyone’s struggle,” states the slogan on the large red-and-black plastic canvas signs stretched along Route 60 from Jerusalem to the West Bank’s Binyamin region.
The small unauthorized outpost, which is home to 50 families, is set so far back on a hilltop 5 kilometers outside of the capital that it is almost impossible to see it from the road.
But in the midst of diplomatic and social crises besetting the country, it has captured a large amount of judicial and political attention in recent months.
Right-wing politicians have visited the outpost and lobbied on its behalf. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin even advocated legalizing it in the plenum.
Likud MK Danny Danon plans to raise the matter with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu next week.
But their efforts had no impact on the judicial system.
This week, the High Court of Justice issued a landmark ruling against the outpost. It affirmed that it was illegal and demanded that the state dismantle it within eight months. The ruling was in response to a 2006 Peace Now petition against the outpost.
The Defense Ministry has promised numerous times that it would dismantle this or that outpost, including Migron. The court has supported such statements.
But this week’s Migron ruling marks the first time the court has ordered the state to dismantle entirely in its entirety one of the more than 100 unauthorized Jewish communities in the West Bank that have been built in the last two decades.
The judgment carries particular weight because it is final, and not subject to appeal. There is, however, a minor possibility of bringing the matter to an expanded panel of judges, but legal experts consider this step unlikely.
On the surface, it might seem that the demolition of some 50 homes, mostly modular ones, would have little impact on the future of Jewish settlement in the West Bank, let alone the larger questions of Palestinian statehood.
But the questions surrounding the destruction or legalization of the community touch on many of the major issues involving Jewish presence in the West Bank.
These include the status of West Bank land with respect to Jewish or Palestinian ownership; the role the court plays in West Bank policy; the political implications that the specter of demolishing Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria would have for Israeli leaders; and the possibility of the violence that could ensue.
The outpost was first constructed somewhere between 1999 and May 2001, the latter date being according to the state its official beginning. It is one of some 100 small communities built after 1990, without proper permits but with government funding and the tacit understanding that official approvals would be forthcoming.
Migron residents, for example, have copies of documents from the Defense Ministry showing an intent to legalize the outpost.
For diplomatic reasons, none of the outposts, including Migron, were legalized.
Since Netanyahu came into office, however, the government has changed its stance on outposts, and has shown a willingness to consider the question.
Although Israel has promised the international community that it will not authorize new settlements, there are those in the Netanyahu government who believe that this promise does not apply to outposts, since they already exist.
Numerous recent state responses to the court regarding petitions to remove outposts have spoken of the state’s intention to legalize those outposts situated on state land.
However, a small number of the outposts, including Migron, are situated on land that the state considers private Palestinian property; as such, legalization is not possible.
Setters have argued that the status of the Migron land is no different than that of some settlements.
They add that the land, for the most part, could be considered abandoned property. Migron residents concede that some of the lots did belong to Palestinians – and in those instances, they say, they have purchased the property. To date, though, they have been unable to prove that the land was bought.
Peace Now has contended that the Migron land is clearly registered to Palestinians and that the issue is not in dispute. The state has accepted the classification of the land as Palestinian. The High Court of Justice, this week, stated its belief as well that the land belongs to Palestinians.
The state had asked the court for time to relocate the outpost to a nearby settlement, although it did not set a timetable for that removal, having already gone over the two-year deadline set in 2008.
The court overruled the state and demanded that Migron be evacuated by the end of March, irrespective of any plans the state had to relocate the settlers living there.
It’s a decision that could have implications for other outposts on land classified by the state as Palestinian, such as Givat Assaf, which is located a short distance away from Migron. It could also have some bearing on those settlements such as Ofra, which, though legally recognized communities, are also situated mostly on private Palestinian property.
The move has political implications as well, because it could force Netanyahu’s government into an unwanted battle with the settlers, particularly since a large portion of his power base is rightwing.
This potential minor battle comes at a time when Netanyahu might have to galvanize support for diplomatic concessionary moves to counter the Palestinian bid for statehood.
Right-wing politicians in particular fear association with a government that could be responsible for clashes with settlers like those that occurred in 2006, when the Defense Ministry was ordered by the court to demolish nine empty homes at the Amona outpost, also in the Binyamin region.
FOR THE left wing, the court affirmed this week that justice could be obtained from a legally independent judicial system. It was also a small step toward restoring Palestinian ownership over West Bank land.
For the right wing, it was one more attempt by what they consider a left-leaning court to overrule governmental policy in favor of its own agenda.
Coming just six years after the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza and four northern Samaria communities, and less than a year after the end of the temporary moratorium on new settlement construction, it is yet another step that underscores for the settlement movement the fragility of their existence in Judea and Samaria.
As such, Migron has become a symbol of Jewish continuity in the West Bank, which has broader implications than just the fate of 50 families.
For the Migron residents and their supporters, one of the significant battles for Judea and Samaria will take place among the small paved roads of their outpost, which is littered with bicycles and baby strollers.
If they lose here, they fear that other outposts and possibly settlements could suffer the same fate.
If they win, they believe they will be one step closer to ensuring their eternal future in Judea and Samaria.