Barak to demolish outposts if dialogue fails

Army destroys Maoz Esther, home to 5 families near Kochav Hashahar; settlers promptly rebuild it.

maoz esther outpost 248 88 ap (photo credit: )
maoz esther outpost 248 88 ap
(photo credit: )
Defense Minister Ehud Barak has ordered the IDF to complete a contingency plan for the forced evacuation of illegal West Bank outposts, officials told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. Barak intends to begin removing the outposts in the coming weeks but has instructed his settlement adviser Eitan Broshi to first try to reach an agreement with the settlers under which they will leave of their own accord, the officials said. The IDF's surprise destruction of the fledgling Maoz Esther outpost near the Kochav Hashahar settlement on Thursday morning was an isolated incident and was not part of the contingency plan. Five families lived in the encampment's seven wooden huts. Since its establishment in December 2007, the IDF has demolished it a number of times. By nightfall on Thursday, settlers had already replaced five of the wooden structures. Barak denied that the Maoz Esther evacuation was connected to his meeting on Wednesday with the settler leadership, in which he warned them that if a deal was not struck on the voluntary removal of outposts, he would forcibly evacuate them. "There is a standing order of mine that when a new outpost is established and there is activity there, to evacuate it immediately," he said during a Labor Party meeting. He also denied that the move was the result of American pressure. Barak's order for a contingency plan to remove established outposts comes three days after US President Barack Obama asked Prime Minister Netanyahu to make good on the pledge of previous Israeli governments to remove those unauthorized outposts established after March 2001. Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev told the Post on Thursday that according to the prime minister the issue of outposts was a "matter of rule of law." "Illegal construction will be dismantled," Regev said, adding that the rule of law was important in a democracy. "Now the government has asked Barak to lead this effort, because it is under his jurisdiction. We are hopeful that it will be through dialogue." But like Barak, the prime ministers' spokesman warned that in the absence of an agreement, "the laws of the land will be enforced." The Maoz Esther evacuation and the stern warnings about outposts did not frighten Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. Thursday's evacuation was a "public relations exercise" of no "practical significance," he said. His main concern was the absence of new construction tenders in West Bank settlements since November. "We are not going to hold talks [on the outposts] until the freeze [on construction permits] is lifted. Our position has always been that we prefer to reach an agreement," Dayan said. He pointed to the agreement reached last year to relocated the residents of the unauthorized Migron outpost, north of Jerusalem, to the Adam settlement as proof a compromise could be reached. "It would be a grave mistake" for "this government to engage in unilateral actions regarding the outposts. The government will bear the consequence of such an action," Dayan said. Most of the outposts were new communities that were in the process of authorization and could be legalized, he said. "The vast majority of the outposts were established, funded, built and marketed by the government. The right course of action is to finish the process of authorization," he said. He added that in the few cases where the outposts were built on private Palestinian land, they should be relocated to areas where settlement was legal. A total of 101 outposts were built on West Bank hilltops from 1995 to 2005. In March 2005 the Sharon government accepted a report by attorney Talia Sasson, which said that all of them were unauthorized. Out of those 101 outposts, 15 were clearly located on private Palestinian property and another 39 were partially on land that belonged to Palestinians, Sasson wrote. When the cabinet accepted her report, it also authorized the removal of 24 outposts constructed after March 2001. To date no action has been taken against those outposts. Under the road map peace plan, Israel is committed to removing all 42 outposts built after that time. During his first visit to Washington as prime minister in 2006, Ehud Olmert promised president George W. Bush that he would take down those outposts, although the exact number he planned to remove was unclear. Since then, in an effort to avoid violent evacuations, the government and the settlers have been working on a deal regarding all the outposts. To date the only significant progress has been with regard to Migron. Should Barak make good on his pledge to remove outposts, the military would be able to begin evacuating some of the more heavily-populated illegal outposts in a "matter of days," IDF sources said. They did not say how many of the outposts would be included in their plan. Officials said that one of the proposals offered to the settler leaders during their meeting with Barak on Wednesday was the annexation of some of the outposts - that were built on state land - by existing settlements. "We prefer to succeed via a dialogue," explained one defense official. "But we are aware that the more radical elements among the settlers will reject our offers and they will likely need to be evacuated with force." Barak said on Thursday that the Defense Ministry would first deal with illegal outposts that had been built on Palestinian land. "We cannot tolerate this phenomenon of illegal outposts," he said. His talk about outpost removal does not include the small number of illegal encampments such as Moaz Esther that were established by grassroots groups in the past two years. These encampments lack the infrastructure of the outposts and were not erected under the auspices of the Settlers Council or nearby settlements. As such they would not be part of any outpost deal. While the IDF has turned a blind eye to outpost expansion over the past two years, it has routinely demolished illegal encampments such as Maoz Esther. Former Kedumim mayor Daniella Weiss, who is among the settlers leaders who helped set up the encampments, said that unlike Dayan, she took Barak's threat very seriously. Activists planned to resist any removal of Jews from land in Judea and Samaria, Weiss said. Barak was trying to enforce a left-wing ideology, and the Right was waking up to the fact that it would need to resist it, she said. Upon hearing about Maoz Esther, MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) hurried to the scene and joined those who were hastily rebuilding a structure at the site. In the end, he placed a mezuza on the completed home. It was "his duty as a legislator" to do so, he said. Ben-Ari called on Netanyahu to fire the defense minister. "Although Netanyahu makes noises like a prime minister, the one who determines the policy in the field is the defense minister," Ben-Ari complained. National Union chairman Ya'acov Katz said that "Barak and his assistant for the destruction of communities, Broshi, are putting the prime minister's government to a daily test. Their goal is to see how far they can push the policy of the extreme Left, to undermine the government that was elected by lovers of the Land of Israel. I expect the prime minister to put Barak into his place and to rein in the vulgar outbursts of his aide."