State admits Migron outpost won't be moved for years

Petitioners urge court to order immediate evacuation; state: Replacement homes must exist first.

illegal outpost 88 (photo credit: )
illegal outpost 88
(photo credit: )
Residents of the illegal outpost of Migron will be able to stay there for years, the state acknowledged on Monday. The state informed the High Court of Justice that it planned to move the 46 families living in Migron, which was built on private Palestinian land, to the nearby settlement of Adam in an area designated for residential housing. But it also made clear that it would take years before the occupants of the outpost, located a short distance north of Jerusalem, actually move. "It must be stressed," the state's representative, attorney Aner Hellman, wrote in a brief to the court, "that we are not talking about moving Migron in the near future, considering that we must first implement planning procedures and then carry out the actual building at the new site." The statement was included in the latest response by the state to a petition filed two years ago by Peace Now and five Palestinians who own some of the land upon which Migron was built. For more than two years, settlement representatives and the state have been negotiating a deal that would prevent forced evacuations among the 101 unauthorized outposts in the West Bank. Migron, which is one of the largest of these outposts, is often seen as an acid test for such a deal, in which some of the outposts would be legalized and others moved to a nearby location. Peace Now has in the past attacked the deal, which it said rewards settlers for breaking the law and contradicts international pledges that Israel has made to take down the outposts. The High Court of Justice is due to discuss the state's proposal during a hearing on Wednesday. The petitioners' lawyer, Michael Sfard, called on the court to reject the state's argument and order it to evacuate the outpost immediately. "The defense minister already broke his promise once before," Sfard told The Jerusalem Post, "and from his brief to the court today it is clear he does not intend to evacuate the settlers from Migron but to gain as much time as possible. Therefore, there is no choice but for the court to issue a final order to evacuate the illegal outpost." Hellman did not say how long it would take before Migron would be dismantled. However, he listed some of the steps that would have to be taken before the settlers could move out. These included the preparation of a detailed plan for the Adam site, its approval by the Judea and Samaria Higher Planning Committee, and the signing of various contracts. Established in 1984 and located a few kilometers from Jerusalem's Pisgat Ze'ev neighborhood, but beyond the West Bank security barrier, Adam is home to some 3,500 people. Hellman added that the government would also have to approve the exact location of the new neighborhood and take into account other conditions related to its construction, such as Israel's political and international obligations. He asked the court to give the state four months, at which time it would report back on the progress being made. In its brief, the state included a letter from Danny Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, agreeing to the government's proposal. Hellman wrote that the state had offered the council three options, but the council preferred to leave the decision to the state. In a letter dated November 10, Dayan wrote that the council accepted the Adam site and "would act, to the extent that it depends on us, to advance the plan in order to implement it without delay." Migron was established in 2001, when settlers asked for permission to build a cellular antenna on a hill overlooking Highway 60, near the settlement of Kochav Ya'acov. The following year, settlers began moving mobile homes to the site without permission. By 2006, some 46 families were living there. The state agreed with the petitioners that the outpost was illegal and must be removed. However, it repeatedly sought to postpone a hearing, either on the grounds that a new defense minister (first Amir Peretz, then Ehud Barak) had taken office and had to become acquainted with the issue, or because the state wished to reach an agreement with the settlers regarding evacuation. In January 2008, the state informed the court it would evacuate Migron in August if it could reach an agreement with the settlers by that time. In August, it informed the court that the settlers had agreed to move to one of three sites. It then asked for three more months to complete negotiations with settlement leaders. Up on Migron, the community of 46 families remained resolute in their refusal to move. Their spokesman, Gideon Rosenfeld, said he paid scant attention to Monday's court proceedings. "They can debate it in court if they want to," he said. But the families believe that the small hilltop on which the community is located belongs to them from both a biblical and legal perspective. According to Rosenfeld, the historical connection the Jews have to the Land of Israel pre-dates the High Court by thousands of years and is stronger than any ruling it can deliver. "We have not consented to any agreement. There is nothing to even talk about," he added. Rosenfeld's words did not deter Dayan from saying the agreement would be executed with the Migron residents' consent. "The government has made the decision for us," he said, adding that the council had agreed to abide by it. He cited the bureaucratic process involved in preparing the Adam site for construction, meaning there is time for the community to change its mind. "No one will move until the new homes are ready," Dayan said. "At the end of the day, everything will be fine."