PM: Gov't to decide Hebron home's fate

Peretz insists he will follow legal procedures, but intends to evict settlers.

hebron settlers 298.88 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
hebron settlers 298.88
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday opposed solo efforts by Defense Minister Amir Peretz to evacuate Hebron settlers from the four-story structure they moved into on March 19. Peretz has said that he intends to evacuate settlers from the 3,500-square-meter building that sits on the main road linking the settlement of Kiryat Arba with the Cave of the Patriarchs. But Olmert said the cabinet would first hold a discussion on the controversial structure in Hebron before a decision is made on how to deal with the settlers who moved in to the building. At the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Olmert noted that legal proceedings were under way regarding the building, which sits in an area on the city's edge populated by Palestinians. Olmert added that nothing hasty would be done against the inhabitants. Peretz retorted that he would follow the legal procedures, but when they were completed, he intended to issue eviction notices to the settlers in the apartment building. There was no need to convene a cabinet meeting to discuss the matter, said Peretz. He added that the issue was within his ministry's purview and that he had the authority to deal with it. A number of cabinet ministers said they believed the structure was strategically placed and should remain under Israeli control. The settlers have said they purchased the structure for $700,000 from the Palestinian owner, who has disputed that claim. The civil administration has said the purchase was legal, but the government has yet to rule on the matter. However, for Peretz the legality of the purchase is not the issue. He told the cabinet ministers and Olmert that he was not willing to agree to a situation where a move with such long-range strategic implications for the country would be made by a group of "law breakers." But representatives of the Jewish community in Hebron said that it had not broken the law. In a response to an order by the civil administration to present documentation in support of their presence in the building, the Hebron settlers and their attorney Nadav Haetzni argued in documents submitted last week that it was the civil administration and the Defense Ministry which failed to follow procedure. Haetzni said that the legal instrument by which the civil administration was attempting to evict the settlers was intended for settlers who had illegally taken over property owned by Palestinians, and that was not the case here. Similarly, he argued that the civil administration and Peretz should have authorized the transaction since the government had already in 1980 and 1998 taken decisions in support of the Jews' presence in Hebron. He added that the final authority in this matter must rest with the cabinet. Haetzni accused Peretz of operating out of political interests with an eye toward strengthening his standing in the Labor Party in advance of its leadership primary in May. He added that the legal appeal to defend the settlers' presence in the structure could take at least a number of months, by which time it was unlikely that Peretz would still be in office. If the cabinet votes to let the settlers remain in the building, it would be the first time since 2004 that the Hebron community has substantively increased its property holdings.