Yatir South outpost may be next to go

Exclusive: Settlers vow to remain, don't want part of voluntary evacuation in return for homes deal.

Yatir south 224.88 (photo credit: Yiska Greenboum)
Yatir south 224.88
(photo credit: Yiska Greenboum)
Itai Cohen admits that the possibility of evacuation was in the back of his mind when he planted 150 trees and developed a bee farm in the Yatir South outpost, located next to the Beit Yatir settlement in the South Hebron Hills, less than a kilometer over the Green Line. But he never imagined that Beit Yatir secretary Moshe Levinbok would be the one to deliver the news that he, his wife, and the five other people living in the outpost had to leave. "I feel like a trading card," Cohen told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. He believes that Levinbok's call for a voluntary evacuation is part of a larger deal in the works in which settlement leaders have been promised construction permits in exchange for concessions on some of the 105 unauthorized West Bank outposts. Cohen, who does not want his outpost to be the next to go, said he watched in dismay as the 12 people living at the Mevo Horon North outpost, near Latrun, agreed to let cranes destroy their homes on Monday and Tuesday. Three of the caravans were relocated to the nearby settlement of Mevo Horon, and another three were dismantled. At Yatir South, Cohen said that he and the others have so far refused to leave. It puts them at odds with the leadership in the nearby Beit Yatir settlement. "What is going on here is divide and conquer," said Women in Green head Nadia Matar, who opposes any outpost removal. Mevo Horon Secretary Shalom Shimon defended his community's decision as a necessary tradeoff. The Defense Ministry promised permits to build 100 homes and some public buildings in Mevo Horon in exchange for the evacuation of six caravans, Shimon told the Post on Tuesday. "We agreed to it, with pain," he said. The arrangement was the second part of a micro-deal the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip has made with the ministry as part of confidence-building measures toward an overall outpost agreement. A few weeks ago, as an initial step, the council oversaw the removal of an uninhabited outpost outside of Ofra, in Samaria. According to the road map peace plan, Israel must remove all the outposts built between 1995 and 2005. It has also promised the United States that it would take down 26 of those that were put up after Ariel Sharon became prime minister in May 2001. Since he became head of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip last summer, Dani Dayan has insisted that an agreement can be reached on the outposts. "We always said that the outpost issue can be settled [peacefully] and we proved that from our part," Dayan told the Post after the Mevo Horon North caravans were removed on Monday and Tuesday. "Now it is up to the government to show that they keep their word" regarding the construction permits, he said. Should the government fail to live up to promise, said Dayan, "just as we moved the caravans 800 meters south, we know how to move them 800 meters north." He said he hoped the authorities would stick to the promises. "If they do, we can gear up for proper negotiations" about the remainder of the outposts, he said. Dayan is among those settler leaders who acknowledge that a small number of the outposts were built on private Palestinian-owned land and need to be moved to adjacent communities. "But there is no reason why the vast majority of the outposts cannot be legalized," he said. Proving, however, how far apart he and the Defense Ministry remain on the issue, a spokesman for Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the Post that no new settlements were being created. The spokesman said there was an "understanding," but not an "agreement," between his office and the settlers. There were confidence-building measures that were being taken, he said, without providing any details. Instead he said it was important to his office to maintain a good relationship with the settlers. Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer called on the Defense Ministry to reveal all the details of the pending deal. "What is the price?" he asked. The evacuation of an outpost was positive but not at the cost of new neighborhoods with hundreds of housing units or the legalization of other outposts, he said. To fulfill its commitments in the road map, Israel must both take down the outposts and halt settlement activity, Oppenheimer said. Right-wing groups blasted the council for making "secret deals" with the government. Matar said it reminded her and other right-wing groups that the council had learned nothing from 2005's "expulsion" of the Jews of Gaza. The council's actions, she said, were helping to create a Palestinian state, and "I wouldn't be surprised if they help uproot Ofra and Beit El," she said. "We are ashamed and outraged. They do not represent the majority of the leadership," said Matar, who added that an alternative leadership was forming at the grass-roots level to replace them. She and other activists are working to identify other planned evacuations so that they could send protesters to defend the communities They are also starting a new initiative to send young single adults to camp out in uninhabited areas of Judea and Samaria to protect the land from Palestinian encroachment. Dayan said the construction approvals strengthened Mevo Horon and the settlement movement as a whole. The move was done with the consent of those who lived in the evacuated Mevo Horon North outpost, he said, adding: "They were not expelled. I do not feel, God forbid, that this in any way facilitates a Palestinian state." On the contrary, the political implications of dozens of building approvals did more to prevent that state from coming into existence than the continued presence of an outpost located within the West Bank security barrier, Dayan said. Cohen disagrees and has called on Matar and others to help the residents of Yatir South defend their homes. Levinbok said the issue was a simple one and not part of any larger deal. In exchange for a permit renewal for the chicken coops at the outpost, the civil administration was insisting that he had to remove the two caravans with families. It had allowed him to keep the other two so that some singles could continue to guard the area, he said. In response, Cohen produced a document that showed the arrangement was in fact a section of a larger deal. Levinbok, in defense of his desire to take down the caravans, said, "I understand how the young people who live there feel." But as someone who was older, he had learned that it was sometimes important to take one step backward in order to advance two steps forward. "Sometimes you have to bend with the wind," he said.