Israeli occupants of illegal West Bank outpost agree to relocate

The 40 families living in Amona have agreed to be relocated, avoiding a clash with government forces

A group of hardline Jewish settlers, who have been living in an unauthorised West Bank outpost, say they have accepted an Israeli government proposal to evacuate the site, apparently ending the potential for a violent confrontation.

The 40 or so families who live in the rough-and-ready hilltop outpost of Amona, built illegally on private Palestinian land, have been at the centre of a years-long court battle.

More recently Amona has turned into a symbol for the wider settlement movement, prompting highly controversial legislation in the Israeli Knesset to retroactively legalise dozens of other similar outposts.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his administration had done all that it could for Amona. Photograph: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
That law which does not include Amona still needs to win two more parliamentary votes to pass and ultimately could be overturned by the Supreme Court, where it is expected to face legal challenges by settlement opponents.

The fate of Amona has exerted an outsized influence in Israeli politics in recent months, exposing deep splits within the rightwing coalition government of Benjamin Netanyahu, who has appeared desperate to avoid a confrontation with settlers over the outpost.

We made great efforts to reach a solution for Amona, Netanyahu said after the meetings.

We did it out of our goodwill and out of love for settlement. The Amona leaders with whom we met overnight can attest that we have done all that we could. I can only hope that the residents of Amona who are now discussing the proposal will accept it. It would be the right thing to do.

The dispute over whether to demolish the outpost, which is north-east of Ramallah, has taken on international importance because of concern over settlement expansion in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967.

All Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem, are seen as illegal under international law, but Israel differentiates between those it has approved and those it has not.

However, after night-long negotiations with the government of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including the far-right leader of the Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, the Amona settlers said on Sunday they accepted Israels promise to build 52 homes and public buildings for them at a nearby location.

Amona settlers voted to leave the outpost, in line with proposals by the Israeli government. Photograph: Oded Balilty/AP

The decision came after several thousand young far-right settler activists had gathered at the outpost in recent days, vowing to violently resist a forced evacuation by Israeli police backed by soldiers.

Young supporters spent Saturday night preparing to resist the outposts clearance, welding metal bars to windows and preparing makeshift barricades.

Elsewhere others danced to techno music or crowded the outposts small synagogue as loudspeakers called them to attend meetings to prepare for the anticipated arrival of police and bulldozers.

Israels supreme court has determined that the Amona outpost was built on private Palestinian land and ordered the government to tear down the outposts 50 trailer homes by 25 December.

Amona is the largest of about 100 unauthorized outposts erected on the West Bank without permission but generally tolerated by the Israeli government.

The settlers agreed to increase the number of mobile homes that would be placed at a new site in Amona, on what Israel describes as land it holds in custodianship for absentee Palestinian owners. Settlers accepted the deal at a vote in Amonas synagogue on Sunday.

But the proposal could face a snag: absentee status can be challenged in court if a property owner comes forward. An Israeli anti-settlement group said on Sunday it had located a Palestinian owner who would bring legal action.

Since Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war, it has built about 120 formal settlements in the territory. Most of the world deems them illegal and an obstacle to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

As well as the main settlements that Israel fully supports, settlers have created over 100 outposts many on hilltops across the West Bank, often with tacit government backing.

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