42 MKs back return to evacuated settlements

Bill unlikely to pass, but move shows strong support for "undoing" disengagement.

Arye Eldad at Homesh 224 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Arye Eldad at Homesh 224
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
In a surprising show of right-wing strength, 42 MKs - including coalition members - signed onto a bill Tuesday that would allow settlers to return to the sites of the four northern Samaria settlements evacuated during the 2005 disengagement. MK Arye Eldad (NU-NRP), who filed the bill, said he could have received an additional 10 signatures but stopped at 42 because it "was enough for a statement," Eldad said. In spite of the flurry of names, Eldad said he did not believe the bill would have enough real support on the Knesset floor to pass. Still, the signatures point to the growing support to undo disengagement, by stating support for the removal of a clause in the original bill that declares the sites of the former Samaria communities to be closed military zones and that is is illegal for civilians to be there, Eldad said. In the last year, right-wing activists have defied the law to set up camp at the site of the former Homesh settlement. Last September a Knesset lobby, the Homesh Forum, was created to ensure the reestablishment of the community that has become symbolic of all four of the evacuated settlements. On Tuesday, the circle of support for the forum's activity widened. Over half a dozen members of coalition partners Shas, Kadima and Gil Pensioners Party signed on to the proposal to make it legal for civilians to be at the sites of the evacuated communities, including MK Ze'ev Elkin (Kadima), Yitzhak Galanti (Gil) and half of Shas's Knesset faction. "My signature on this proposal serves two purposes," explained Elkin, who was part of a small minority of Kadima members who opposed disengagement, even in its early days. "Unlike in Gaza, the situation in northern Samaria can still be changed. And second, my signature serves as a protest against the current negotiations that are under way with [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas]." In addition to the support of a handful of coalition MKs, members of the Likud, Israel Beiteinu and NU-NRP parties, as well as United Torah Judaism and the newly-established Justice for the Elderly also signed on. The territory in question is all considered to be part of Area C - parts of the West Bank that remain under full Israeli security control. The decision met with criticism from the Left, including Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer, who in an interview to Army Radio described Eldad's legislation as a "diplomatic kidnapping." Although it is unlikely that the bill would find enough support to pass the current Knesset, it could easily remain on the table should early elections usher in a more sympathetic coalition. But right-wing activist and former member of the evacuated Sa-Nur settlement Yossi Dagan, who has never stopped dreaming of rebuilding his former home, was happy. "It brings us one step closer to returning," he said. Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.