Settlers mull moving largest unauthorized outpost

May relocate Migron ahead of evacuation hearing; Peace Now slams gov't's willingness to strike a deal.

ofra settlement 298 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ofra settlement 298 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Settlers may offer to relocate Migron, the West Bank's largest unauthorized outpost, ahead of a court hearing on a plan to evacuate several of the unrecognized communities, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Hagit Ofran, the head of Peace Now's Settlement Watch, said the outpost could be moved from its present location near Ofra, northeast of Ramallah, to the Binyamin industrial zone. A spokesman for the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip confirmed that this was one of the possibilities under consideration as settlers and the Defense Ministry look to strike a deal on the unauthorized outposts in advance of a High Court of Justice hearing set for September 10. The state is to present the court a plan for the evacuation of a number of outposts including Migron, which the court has already declared must be evacuated. According to Peace Now attorney Michael Sfard, who petitioned the court over the outpost removal, the state has told the court it prefers to come up with a plan to deal with all 105 unauthorized outposts rather then approach the matter in a piecemeal fashion. But the Defense Ministry and the council have said the number of unauthorized outposts under discussion is closer to 25 or 26 hilltop communities, those that were established after prime minister Ariel Sharon took office in March 2001. In March 2005 the cabinet approved the removal of 24 such outposts and Israel has promised the US administration that it will stand by this decision. According to Peace Now's Ofran, there is a call by settlers to move Migron to the industrial area, which is located on state-owned land, something that would defuse one of the key allegations contained in the petition calling for the dismantling of Migron. Ofran said Migron was established in 2002 and has 300 residents and at least two permanent buildings. According to a report on the outposts prepared two years ago by attorney Talia Sasson, at least 24 were built without government permission after March 2001. Of these, 11 were built either entirely or partially on private Palestinian land, the report said, including Givat Avigayil, Givat Haroeh, Ahuzat Shalhevet, Givat Hadegel, the Red House, Migron, Mitzpe Assaf, East Ofra, Southeast Ofra, Ahavat Haim and Kochav Hashahar East. Another four were built on seker land, land whose ownership is in dispute. One of these four, Mitzpe Hananel, has been approved by the defense minister as being on state land but has still not been legally approved. Only seven of the outposts are indisputably built on state land. These include Ma'aleh Rehavam, Mitzpe Lachish, Nofei Nehemia, Assa'el, Southeast Yatir, Givat Sla'it and Midreshet Nabiyeh. There is no information about land ownership regarding Havat Shaked. Havat Gilad was built on private Palestinian land. However, a court decided to register it in the name of "Har V'Guy," a Jewish land development company. Settlers are hopeful that a deal will be struck in which the state legalizes outposts situated on state land. In other cases the outposts would be moved elsewhere in the West Bank, to land where legal settlement is possible. Officials confirmed that Defense Minister Ehud Barak's settler affairs adviser, Eitan Broshi, was in contact with leaders from the council. "Our hope is that through dialogue we can minimize the level of tension as well as potential conflicts," a senior official said. Peace Now director-general Yariv Oppenheimer was angered by the idea of a deal on the outposts. "We are afraid that Barak is going to sign a deal with the settler leadership," he told the Post. "We do not think that Barak was elected to give a prize to people who broke the law." On Sunday, Oppenheimer wrote a letter to this effect to Barak, adding: "I am certain that in spite media reports, you are determined to fulfill your responsibility to the Israeli public and to the rule of law" by evacuating the outposts. Dani Dayan, chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said the Defense Ministry and settlers were looking for a way to resolve the situation. He said most of the outposts could be legalized. Dayan said he was hopeful alternative locations could be found for outposts that could not be legalized. But he would not say if the council would approve the removal of an outpost under these circumstances. Dayan said such a decision could not be made by the council alone; it would have to be taken together with the residents of the outposts in a completely transparent process. In the council's weekly newsletter last Friday, it alerted settlers to the possibility that such a deal might be reached. "We believe it is possible to find a solution for the outposts that will strengthen the settlements," the council wrote, adding that such a deal could also help combat government efforts to "dry up" existing settlements.