Amona settlers retract peaceful evacuation pledge

Amona residents on Monday threatened “a forced, unpleasant evacuation” of their outpost after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz announced that it is not possible to implement the agreement signed with them at this point due to legal reasons.

The High Court of Justice determined that the homes in the outpost were built illegally on privately-owned Palestinian lands and ordered to evacuate the settlers and demolish their homes.

View from Amona (Photo: Ido Erez) (Photo: Ido Erez)

View from Amona (Photo: Ido Erez)

The government received a 45-day extension on the evacuation deadline in order to implement a compromise agreement reached with the settlers, with the new deadline set to February 7.

The plan was to resettle Amona families on property belonging to absentee landowners, but Palestinians have filed ownership claims on the lands that were found to be justified.

According to Horowitz, the settlers were offered to move to the Ofra settlements in a nearby mountain in the Mateh Binyamin area, but they refused.

Photo: Ohad Zweigenberg (Photo: Ohad Zweigenberg)

Photo: Ohad Zweigenberg

The agreement signed with the Amona residents includes the construction of 24 homes that will be 180sqm in size and able to house two families each on Hill 38, located at the entrance of the outpost.

Concurrently, the government will begin unfreezing lands on Hill 30 that belong to absentee owners so more homes can be built. A project manager selected by the Amona residents will accompany the legal process.

The plan is to have a “door-to-door” evacuation in which each of the 41 families could move from their current homes in Amona directly to their new homes in “Amona North.” Families whose housing won’t be ready on time will temporarily move to the nearby settlement of Ofra.

Eventually, the goal is to unite the different plots into one town.

“For us, this is now a struggle. Either it’ll be a difficult and painful evacuation or the Regulation Bill will pass including Amona,” the Amona settlers said in a statement.

“At the current state of things, we have no choice but to renew the public struggle in full force and call upon our thousands of supporters to come to Amona posthaste, stand beside us, and do everything possible to prevent the evacuation,” the statement went on to say.

Avichai Buaron, who leads the Amona settlers’ protest, criticized Prime Minister Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, whose Bayit Yehudi party backs the settlement enterprise in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Activists in Amona (Photo: Gil Yohanan) (Photo: Gil Yohanan)

Activists in Amona (Photo: Gil Yohanan)

“You fooled us and deceived us,” Buaron said in an interview with Ynet. “The agreement said alternative homes will be built for the families. That hasn’t happened and is not in the process of happening. We won’t meet our side of the agreement of peaceful evacuation because you did not meet your side. Agreements must be honored.”

The settlers called on the government to promote the Regulation Bill, which passed a first reading in the Knesset after the article concerning Amona was removed from it.

On Sunday, Netanyahu, who has voted in favor of the bill thus far, reportedly criticized it, calling in an “irresponsible move” that may have brought on a UN Security Council resolution against the settlements. The comments were made in a closed forum, and the Prime Minister’s Office later denied having made them, which was cited by one of the ministers present in the meeting.

PM Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi) (Photo: Amit Shabi)

PM Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

“We need to apply the law,” Buaron said. “It passed a preliminary reading and a first reading in the Knesset. Despite what Netanyahu says, it was the right move in the Obama era. Now the conditions changed with the Trump era and the situation is seemingly ripe to pass the Regulation Bill.”

Amona was removed from the Regulation Bill due to strong objections from Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. Buaron claimed Kahlon had ideas on how to include the outpost in the legislation. “I suggest the prime minister and education minister talk to Minister Kahlon.”

Buaron claimed the settlers do not want to reach a point where an evacuation is forced on them. “We are not seeking compensation, we’re not asking for anything. We’re asking to resolve the legal lacuna that allows expropriating lands anywhere else in the country (except in the West Bank).”

Elisha Ben-Kimon and Itamar Eichner contributed to this report.