REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Jewish settlers in the unauthorized West Bank outpost of Migron have rejected the latest attempt by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to find a compromise that would save their community while still complying with a Supreme Court ruling that it be dismantled.
The government of Israel has promised repeatedly to tear down Migron, the flagship of West Bank outposts, after conceding it was built at least in part on privately owned Palestinian land, rendering it illegal even by Israeli standards.
Most recently, the Supreme Court ruled Migron must be evacuated by the end of March.
Concerned about an ugly, high-profile eviction scene pitching Israel's law-enforcement troops against the country's own civilians, the government proposed the residents vacate the unauthorized site voluntarily in return for a new, permanent settlement to be built about a mile down the road on state-owned lands and with full government blessing. Building the new houses would take time.
A similar agreement was reached last month to relocate and legalize Ramat Gilad, a smaller outpost.
For now, settler leaders are rejecting the government's proposal to go peacefully, although settler leader Danny Dayan told Israel radio Monday that "it's a good basis for discussion." Settlers indicated they would agree to leave a portion of the site and maybe the rest, subject to a conclusion on the land ownership dispute.
Benny Begin, a cabinet minister who negotiated the compromise on the government's behalf, said settlers were trying to "hold both ends of the rope" instead of embracing a compromise. Begin told media that the government will seek another extension from the Supreme Court to "resolve the situation peacefully."
Peace Now, the veteran anti-settlement group that has petitioned for the removal of Migron since 2006, said it was the government trying to have their cake and eat it too. A response on the organization's website called the government's proposal "cynical spin" designed to avoid compliance with a court ruling.
Built a decade ago, Migron has long posed a challenge as the largest and most developed of Jewish outposts in the West Bank, resembling a permanent community more than many other such makeshift sites. After years of legal proceedings, eviction warrants and countless extensions, the Supreme Court recently ruled that the final deadline to evacuate Migron would be March 31.
Years of procrastination, legal deliberations and attempted compromise on the case are coming to a head at a timing that could prove sensitive for Netanyahu, whose right-wing government is sympathetic to the settlers' cause.
Coalition lawmakers are already trying to pass legislation prohibiting removal of Jewish outposts in the West Bank even if built on privately owned Palestinian lands. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has declared dismantling outposts to be a "red line" that could dissolve the government.
Some settlers have called for a boycott of the coming primaries for Netanyahu's Likud party. The prime minister recently moved up the primaries to the end of the month, taking the political system by surprise and sparking a guessing game about early elections.
-- Batsheva Sobelman
Photo: Jewish settlers stand on the rubble of a house demolished by the Israeli authorities in the West Bank settlement of Migron in this Sept. 5, 2011, photo. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a compromise with settlers that would stave off a looming deadline to evict residents from Migron, the largest unauthorized settlement enclave in the West Bank. Credit: Sebastian Scheiner / Associated Press