Jewish settlers agree to voluntary evacuation of outpost
JERUSALEM-- Thirty Jewish families have agreed to evacuate their homes in the West Bank outpost of Ulpana and avoid confrontation with Israeli authorities acting on a court order to evict them, Israeli media reported.
The agreement comes 10 days before the deadline for compliance with a ruling by the Supreme Court that holds the government to its promise to remove five buildings from the outpost in the West Bank, built on privately owned Palestinian land in violation of Israeli law.
As the deadline approached, many young pro-settlement activists had set up camp around the houses slated for removal, preparing for a fight with the authorities. Past outpost dismantlings have often turned violent. A recent rash of vandalism, including the torching of a mosque in a Palestinian village, worsened the tense situation, heightening concern of violence among authorities and settler leaders alike.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought a legal solution that would spare the houses and himself the need to evacuate Jewish settlers, who are a base of support for his ruling right-wing coalition. None was found and Netanyahu announced the government would comply with the ruling, but he pledged to build 300 new apartments in the Beit El settlement.
Ulpana is adjacent to Beit El, which Israel vows it will keep in any future peace deal with the Palestinians.
Residents of Ulpana have agreed to avoid confrontation that would tarnish the image of settlers, reports said. They will vacate their houses by the end of the month and move into mobile homes until the houses are physically relocated, in keeping with the government's promise.
Last week, the Cabinet approved the establishment of a ministerial steering committee on settlement affairs, seen as a move to appease Netanyahu's right-wing flank after shooting down a bill to approve illegal settlement outposts, possibly cutting into the defense minister's jurisdiction over settlement affairs, though some question this.
During the committee's first meeting, held Wednesday, Netanyahu briefed ministers on how the government plans to comply with the court ruling by removing the houses, relocating them and building 300 new apartments on land that will be vacated by an army base. Netanyahu told the members that the solution meets his two goals, "upholding the law and strengthening the settlement movement."
The state plans to ask the court for a three-month stay during which the houses will be relocated.
-- Batsheva Sobelman
Photo: The Ulpana outpost in the West Bank. Four of the five buildings scheduled for removal are visible: those in the top row, and the building on the left in the second row from the top. Credit: Sebastian Scheiner / Associated Press