Court queries state's Migron position

Judges demand that the gov't explain why it shouldn't use all means necessary to remove outpost.

sign to migron 248 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
sign to migron 248 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
After waiting more than two years to see whether the government would dismantle an illegal outpost it acknowledges was built on private Palestinian land, the High Court of Justice on Wednesday gave the state 45 days to explain why it should not do so immediately. The show-cause order came in response to a petition filed by Peace Now and six Palestinians upon whose land some of Migron was built, calling on the court to compel the state to dismantle the outpost, near Ofra, immediately and restore the land to its rightful owners. In advance of Wednesday's hearing, the state informed the court that the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip had agreed to the state's proposal to move the residents of Migron to a housing development to be built on land belonging to the Adam settlement. In its brief, the state asked the court's permission to report back in four months on how the plans for the move were progressing. The state's representative, Aner Hellman, also made it clear to the court that the Migron settlers would remain in the outpost until the new housing had been built. "It must be stressed that we are not talking about moving Migron in the near future," he said, without specifying how long it would take. However, during Wednesday's hearing, he estimated that the move could take place in about two-and-a-half years. The petitioners' lawyer, Michael Sfard, told the court he had asked a former head of the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, Ilan Paz, how long he thought it would take to approve the necessary plans, sign contracts with builders and complete the homes. Sfard said Paz estimated it would take seven years. If the government turned the project into a national priority, it could take three years, Paz predicted. According to Sfard, the bottom line of the state's brief to the court was that "Defense Minister Ehud Barak is asking the court to leave him alone." Sfard pointed out that since the petition was filed in 2006, the state had asked for several delays, first on the grounds that two successive new defense ministers, Amir Peretz and Barak, were studying the material. Then came another postponement request on the grounds that the state was trying to reach an accommodation with the settlers to leave Migron peacefully. Finally, in February 2008, the state told the court it would evict the settlers by force by August unless progress was being made in the negotiations for a voluntary evacuation. In August, the state told the court that progress had been made. The state had offered settlement leaders three options for moving the Migron settlers and they were considering them. Now, three months later, the state has informed the court that the settlers have agreed to the Adam option but that it needs more time to "complete the steps necessary to implement the plan." Hellman proposed reporting back to the court in four months on the progress being made. But the judges were not convinced. Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch told Hellman, "In February, we decided not to issue a show-cause order. We gave the state time. But now we are at the point that we must say that the state has not been able to fulfill any of the undertakings it has made." Justice Miriam Na'or said the petitioners "do not care where the settlers go. They simply want their land back." Instead of the four months the state asked for, the court gave it 45 days to file a detailed response justifying its position, backed by a sworn affidavit signed by a senior government official with direct responsibility for the Migron issue. The burden is now on the state to persuade the court that its policy is correct. The petitioners have already convinced the court that they have a serious case that requires a convincing reply by the state.