Shlomo Cesana, Gideon Allon, Mati Tuchfeld and Efrat Forsher, ISRAEL HAYOM
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Ulpana homes will be relocated and new homes will be built in Beit El.
As the controversy continues over whether to evacuate disputed homes in the Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said that his government’s policy was to strengthen the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria while adhering to the rule of law.
Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled earlier this year that five structures, housing about 30 families, were built on privately owned Palestinian land and must be evacuated by July 1.
Speaking at the Likud faction meeting Sunday morning, and reiterating a proposal he floated over the weekend, Netanyahu said the problem could be solved using a two-pronged approach: Rather than destroy the disputed homes, they should be removed and relocated to nearby state-owned land in Beit El, and for every structure that is moved 10 more will be built so that a precedent is not set in which petitions to remove houses in Judea and Samaria weakens the settlement enterprise.
Netanyahu was awaiting word from Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein about the legality of his proposed move, which could come as early as Sunday. He told his Likud colleagues that if this plan received proper authorization in coming days, “we’ll be in good shape.”
Referring to the so-called High Court bypass bill, also known as the “arrangements law,” which seeks to authorize structures built on private land retroactively if the owner does not claim the land within four years of the buildings’ construction, Netanyahu said, “It is always possible to resolve this through legislation, but that comes with a price, including in the international arena.” That bill is scheduled to go up for a vote in the Knesset this Wednesday.
According to Israel Radio, Netanyahu told his Likud colleagues that the cost of relocating the homes would be far less than some of the figures that have been reported, and would likely cost less than 10 million shekels. He also said the construction of 10 housing units for each home that was evacuated would enable 1,000 more residents to live in Beit El, and would deter opponents of settlements from petitioning the court.
Netanyahu’s proposal has drawn fierce criticism from hawkish members of the coalition and other right-wing politicians and settler leaders, who have urged him not to evacuate the homes. Coalition Chairman MK Zeev Elkin (Likud) said removing the homes would set a bad precedent that could lead to the destruction of thousands of homes in Judea and Samaria, according to Israel Radio.
“Netanyahu’s decision is a serious mistake which violates his promises to those who voted for the nationalist faction,” Elkin said on Saturday.
Deputy Knesset Speaker Danny Danon (Likud) said he intended to call an emergency meeting with settlement representatives in the Knesset on Monday to discuss the matter. He said Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were “taking the coalition to the Left and harming the settlement enterprise from within.”
MK Zvulun Orlev (New National Religious Party) said, “The destruction of the homes and evacuation of the neighborhood is out of the question. Therefore, I will submit a proposal for a new law on Wednesday.”
Danny Dayan, head of the Yesha Council, the umbrella body of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, said, “The prime minister’s proposal is not acceptable. We categorically reject it and demand that government ministers approve the arrangements law.”
Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (New National Religious Party) said he would support the High Court bypass bill and warned that left-wings groups like Peace Now would inundate the court with additional petitions over outposts or settlements believed to be built on private Palestinian land if Ulpana was evacuated and the bill was not ratified.
Improvement of Government Services Minister Michael Eitan (Likud) said that ratifying the High Court bypass bill and implementing it in Judea and Samaria would isolate Israel in the international community, as it would affect Palestinian residents in the territory who were not Israeli citizens and did not have the right to vote. He told Israel Radio such a move would lead Israel’s opponents to brand Israel an apartheid state.
Meanwhile, Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) said, “Netanyahu made the right decision to abide by the rule of law regarding the evacuation of the Ulpana neighborhood. But the defiant move he added, in the form of an arrogant declaration of building 10 new homes for each home that is evacuated, is childish, unnecessary and damages Israel’s image in the eyes of the world.”
Meretz leader MK Zehava Gal-On welcomed Netanyahu’s decision to uphold the court ruling, but cautioned that his promise to build more homes effectively rewarded settlers and encouraged them to violate the law.
The plan to relocate the homes would be accomplished in the same way that German Templer homes near the Kirya Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv were moved in 2009, but in this case the homes would need to be moved several hundred meters from their original location.
The cost of the project has not been disclosed, and until the work is completed, Ulpana residents will reside in prefabricated homes in Beit El.
According to a senior government official, Netanyahu said on Saturday, “I don’t want to destroy the homes. We will fulfill the High Court’s ruling. What will strengthen the settlement enterprise is construction. For each home that we evacuate and relocate, we will build 10 additional homes. We will not allow the settlement enterprise to be harmed by lawsuits. Legal proceedings will weaken the enterprise.”
The Defense Ministry said the Beit El settlement had enough room to accommodate the Ulpana homes “in accordance with any arrangement agreed upon.”
Netanyahu also said he did not agree with Barak’s assessment that if no political solution was found for the Ulpana issue, the government should consider a unilateral withdrawal from parts of Judea and Samaria.