Israeli Gov’t Strikes Deal With Settlers of Illegal West Bank Outpost
Bennett’s coalition partners outraged by concessions surrounding Evyatar
Israel’s government on Thursday signed an agreement with the handful of residents of Evyatar, an illegal Jewish settlement erected last month on the outskirts of the Palestinian village Beita in the West Bank.
According to the finalized arrangement, the outpost will be voluntarily and fully evacuated by Friday afternoon and will remain empty while the Israeli authorities carry out a further examination of the land’s legal status.
The government and the military have already decreed in recent weeks that the territory is out of bounds for settlement, and that Evyatar’s establishment constituted “a severe and flagrant violation of the law,” while also issuing a warrant for the place’s immediate eviction and removal.
Yet per the deal reached between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the ultra-right settlers, the houses built on the windswept hill will remain intact as a second round of assessments of the land’s status is completed.
In the meantime, an army company will be stationed on the disputed hilltop to keep watch as the legal process runs its course.
The battle isn’t just for the territory of Evyatar. It’s much bigger than that. We went to war to change this reality, that Jews can’t build in their own homeland
“This isn’t a happy day for us, not something we that hoped and prayed for. But this essentially means replacing a civilian presence with a military one, with a signed promise by the state to work toward legalizing the place,” Zvi Succot, one of the settlers who serves as a spokesman for Evyatar, said.
Israel’s coalition, barely three weeks old, comprises far-left, center and far-right parties, as well as a conservative Islamist party, and is headed by a former director-general of the West Bank settlements’ Yesha Council umbrella organization.
Succot, who said he did not and probably would not vote for the current administration, nonetheless admitted that “when an Israeli government says it will do what it can to keep a settlement standing, that’s quite a change from previous ones. It’s an achievement, and for that, they deserve our thanks.”
The handful of houses, paved asphalt roads, electric lines and water pipes were quickly constructed in May at the height of Operation Guardian of the Walls, while thousands of rockets were launched on southern Israel by Hamas.
The settlers’ stated intention was to take advantage of the Israeli military being shorthanded and occupied with the events in Gaza.
Evyatar was formed between several Palestinian villages and has drawn violent weekly demonstrations, in which four Palestinian protesters were killed by Israeli fire.
“The Palestinians realized exactly where we were going, very quickly, to their credit,” Succot says. “I’ve never seen this level of resistance. It’s unprecedented, what the residents of Beita are doing.”
“The battle isn’t just for the territory of Evyatar. It’s much bigger than that. We went to war to change this reality, that Jews can’t build in their own homeland.”
Yet the concessions made by the residents of the outpost, and their acquiescence to voluntarily come off the hill, led some on the far right to condemn Evyatar’s leaders for capitulating.
“At the end of the day, we only had two choices: Either agree to this compromise or face immediate forced evacuation, which would hand the Arabs a victory and probably hinder us from replicating this effort in the future,” Succot insists.
Evyatar is an illegal outpost that sets a new record for the deep right’s criminal activities and flouting of the rule of law
Bennett and Gantz’s agreement on Thursday was widely denounced by some in the coalition, as members of parliament from the leftist Meretz party announced they would oppose critical bills scheduled to be brought up for a vote next week as a response to the controversial decision.
“Evyatar is an illegal outpost that sets a new record for the deep right’s criminal activities and flouting of the rule of law,” a spokesman for Peace Now, Israel’s leading left-wing movement, told The Media Line via a statement.
“It must be removed at once, and not in return for the legalization of other outposts. The least that can unite the various elements of this government is the concept of respecting and enforcing the law.”