Ulpana Illegal Outpost must be Gone by July, Israeli Government is Warned
The Israeli government has been given a fresh deadline for the controversial demolition of a Jewish outpost built on private Palestinian land after the supreme court rejected its request to renege on an earlier commitment.
In a ruling that will be vehemently opposed by pro-settler parties and factions, the court said five apartment buildings in Ulpana, on the edge of the Beit El settlement in the West Bank, must be evacuated and demolished by 1 July.
The government had agreed to a 1 May deadline, a year after the court declared the buildings to be illegal under Israeli law. Under international law, all Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal.
But faced with stiff resistance from within the coalition, the government requested a delay to allow it to reconsider its policy on how to deal with illegal outposts in the West Bank. The issue had significant consequences involving "diplomatic, public and operational considerations," the government petition said.
The court rejected the argument, saying it was important for the state to honour its commitments, and that revisiting the issue "may lead to difficult consequences".
On Sunday, when hearing the petition, the judges were highly critical of the government's stance. "When the state says it will do something, it never enters our heads that the thing won't get done," said one. Another said: "Exceptional requests are becoming the norm. That isn't healthy, from either a legal or public standpoint."
Michael Sfard, the lawyer representing the Palestinian landowners, said in response to the ruling: "The moment the state submitted its unprecedented request, this case became a broader struggle than that of the [Palestinian] petitioners alone, and became a struggle to preserve the basic norms of a regime based on the rule of law."
But an Ulpana resident, Harel Cohen, said he was confident the buildings would not be razed. "This crazy plan to uproot a very nice neighbourhood is not reasonable and cannot be done," he said. "We are speaking to the prime minister and the government, and we know they will find a way out."
The scheduled demolitions of Ulpana and Migron – another outpost built on private land, which is due to be demolished by 1 August after a series of delays – are seen as a test of the government's readiness to comply with Israeli law in the face of pressure from pro-settler groups, whose influence on government policy is growing.
Critics say they are also an indication of the likely scale of resistance to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on borders that would require the removal of tens of thousands of settlers from the land of a future Palestinian state.
The government recently retrospectively authorised three other illegal outposts in a move that was sharply criticised by the US, UK, French, German, Danish and Jordanian governments, the European Union, the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority. There are about 100 unauthorised developments in the West Bank.
About 350,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements and outposts, and a further 200,000 in East Jerusalem. The issue of settlements is seen by the Palestinians and the international community as the main impediment to a peace agreement.