State promises to remove 47 illegal homes in 5 outposts

Source in Prime Minister's Office denies any connection between setting timetable for demolition and US veto of anti-settlement resolution.

Israeli flag flutters over settlement of Ofra 311 R (photo credit: Laszlo Balogh / Reuters)
Israeli flag flutters over settlement of Ofra 311 R
(photo credit: Laszlo Balogh / Reuters)
The state has promised to demolish 47 illegal structures in five different West Bank outposts by the end of 2011, according to a document it submitted to the High Court of Justice on Monday.
It issued its statement in response to a Peace Now petition against six unauthorized outposts: Givat Assaf, Ha¹roeh, Ramat Gilad, Mitzpe Yitzhar, Ma¹aleh Rehavam and Mitzpe Lachish.
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Out of those six, only one ­ Givat Assaf, which has 30 structures ­ is totally built on private Palestinian land. In contrast, Mitzpe Lachish is located wholly on state land.
The state said the fate of Mitzpe Lachish, with its 14 structures, and that of the other 60 structures on state land in four of the other outposts, would be weighed in the future.
According to the state, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held a meeting last Monday with the defense minister, the public security minister, the attorney-general and other relevant ministers to formulate a policy with respect to outposts.
It was determined that the state's general policy with regard to illegal settler construction was to remove those homes and structures built on private Palestinian land and to look at the option of authorizing buildings on state land. However, no timetable was given for the implementation of this broader policy.
The state also cautioned in its response that all steps relating to the demolition of illegal West Bank structures had to be weighed against Israel's diplomatic concerns and agenda.
The announcement of impending demolitions of illegal structures, many of which are populated with either families or single adults, came just weeks after the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that condemned any Israeli settlement construction as illegal.
On Monday, a source in the Prime Minister's Office denied that there was any connection between the veto and the state's decision to set a timetable for the demolition of outpost homes. This is not a form of payback, the source said.
"The prime minister has always said Israel is a country governed by the rule of law, so what was built illegally on Palestinian land will be coming down," one official said.
The official added that the timing of the response was not dictated by anything on the diplomatic calendar, such as the upcoming Quartet meeting in Paris, but only by the court's timetable.
Peace Now, meanwhile, said it had mixed feelings about the state's response.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said she welcomed the announcement of the impending demolitions and added that she hoped the state would issue a similar response regarding other outpost petitions.
She noted that according to Peace Now, an additional 64 outposts were partially or fully built on private Palestinian land.
The group's attorney Michael Sfard noted that the setting of a timetable had tremendous significance, but at the same time the state had not agreed to remove the outposts completely.
The issue that drove Peace Now to petition the court, he said, was the illegal nature of the outposts, not whether they had been built on private or public land.
Ofran added that when the state spoke of the possibility of authorizing illegal homes on state land, it was in effect speaking of creating new settlements ­ something it had pledged to the international community that it would no longer do.
In contrast, Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, charged that the state¹s response was an "act of provocation that will only serve to incite and anger while serving no practical purpose in bettering relations with our Arab neighbors." The government's choice to "to advance policies that use bulldozers against Israeli citizens as opposed to basic common sense should be an issue that troubles all Israelis," he stated.
Dayan said that based on his information, 98 percent of outpost homes were on "state land" and had been established with government support.
"Within five minutes and with the relevant signatures, these areas could be legalized and we could avoid all the incitement and violence that might result if these homes are demolished," he said.
It is possible to address the issue of the homes on private Palestinian land through dialogue, he added.
"We would implore the prime minister and his government to act sensibly and place the Israeli people¹s interests before the constantly changing whims of the international community and a handful of Peace Now activists," he said.
Separately the state, in its response to the court, spoke about the overall issue of illegal construction and demolitions in the West Bank. It noted that it had demolished 24 percent of illegal settler construction in the West Bank compared with 14% of Palestinian construction.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.