Settlers agree to leave Migron for nearby hill in West Bank – some time
By Maayan Lubell, Reuters
JERUSALEM— Jewish settlers signed an agreement with the Israeli government on Sunday to leave the biggest illegal outpost in the occupied West Bank and move to a nearby site after months of negotiations to avoid their forced removal.
The 50 families from the Migron settlement welcomed the deal with coalition government, comprised mainly of pro-settler parties, saying it would avoid the unpleasant scenes seen in past evictions.
But campaigners against Jewish settlements on land claimed by Palestinians described the deal as a disgrace, as the families had been allowed to relocate to another already-established West Bank settlement a few kilometers away.
The long dispute over Migron has revealed a contradiction at the heart of the Jewish state – despite publicly endorsing the notion of an independent Palestinian nation, successive Israeli governments have nurtured settlements on the very land that the Palestinians claim as theirs.
Over the past decade the government has spent at least 4 million shekels ($1.1 million) on establishing and maintaining the cluster of squat, prefab bungalows at Migron.
But in an unprecedented ruling in August 2011, Israel’s Supreme Court told the government to evacuate Migron, 32 km (20 miles) east of Jerusalem, by March 31, 2012, saying the land belonged to Palestinians.
About 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war that Palestinians want for a future state together with the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians say the settlements will deny them a viable state and demand a total freeze in settlement building before peace negotiations with Israel, frozen for over a year, can restart.
Migron is the largest of more than 100 outposts built without official Israeli government authorization in the West Bank that are home to almost 2,000 people.
“This agreement is intended to fulfill the Supreme Court ruling and to prevent unpleasant scenes that we have seen in other places where there was an eviction and demolition of houses … The government has taken responsibility for a settlement that it erected,” Migron settlers’ spokesman Itai Hemo said.
A spokeswoman for the anti-settlement advocacy group Peace Now called the agreement “a disgrace”.
“This agreement is no less than a disgrace. The government of Israel is actually saying ‘We will not evict Migron, we will not do what the Supreme Court told us. And we will give in to any settlers’ threat … It sends a message that Israel (does not want) peace (and will) build more settlements,” Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran said.
The new site allocated to the settlers is on land that is not under private Palestinian ownership, Israeli officials said.
While the United Nations deems all Jewish settlements in the region to be illegal, Israel backs 120 official settlements, home to about 310,000 people.
West Bank Jewish settlers agree to relocate from Migron
Jewish settlers in the biggest illegal outpost in the West Bank have struck a deal with the government to relocate to a state-built community.
Settlers at the Migron outpost will be moved to a nearby hill and the current site will be put under Israeli military control, Israel radio said.
The Israeli Supreme Court had ordered the Migron outpost, north of Jerusalem, to be demolished by the end of March.
Campaigners against Jewish settlements said the relocation was “a disgrace”.
The deal follows months of talks between settlers and Benny Begin, a minister without portfolio in the Israeli government.
He said the agreement would avoid further clashes between settlers and Israeli security forces.
Israel says the new site – 2km (1.2 miles) from Migron – is on land that is not under private Palestinian ownership, unlike the existing site.
About 4,000 settlers live in several dozen hill-top outposts on the West Bank erected without formal government approval since the late 1990s.
The outposts are illegal under Israeli law and Israel agreed to remove them under the 2003 Road Map peace plan.
Last August, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the state had to destroy Migron, which has a population of 280.
“This agreement is intended to fulfil the Supreme Court ruling and to prevent unpleasant scenes that we have seen in other places where there was an eviction and demolition of houses,” Migron settlers’ spokesman Itai Hemo said.
The government has taken responsibility for a settlement that it erected.”
However, a spokeswoman for the anti-settlement advocacy group Peace Now condemned the move.
“This agreement is no less than a disgrace,” Hagit Ofran said.
“The government of Israel is actually saying, ‘We will not evict Migron, we will not do what the Supreme Court told us. And we will give in to any settlers’ threat. It sends a message that Israel (will) build more settlements.”
About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
Migron Compromise – The Facts Behind the Agreement
The government has just made an unprecedented decision to sign an agreement with the residents of Migron not to evacuate the settlement as required by a Supreme Court decision. According to the agreement, the government will allow the settlers to continue living in the outpost on the hill until a new settlement is built for them 2 km away. Even after the new settlement is built, the government will consider leaving the buildings in the original outpost intact.
Peace Now Yariv Oppenheimer: “This is a recipe of how not to comply with the Supreme Court. Building a new and isolated settlement deep in the heart of the territories goes against Israel’s interest and is aimed at placating an extremist settler minority.”
Settlement Watch Hagit Ofran: “This agreement is no less than a disgrace. The government of Israel is actually saying ‘we will not evict Migron, we will not do what the Supreme Court told us. And we will give in to any settlers’ threat. It sends a message that Israel (will) build more settlements.”
The Migron compromise must not be permitted for the following reasons:
1. It is the first time the state is avoiding carrying out an explicit and unequivocal Supreme Court decision, in an absolute order, to evacuate the outpost by March 31, 2012. Due to pressure by the settlers, the government is asking the Supreme Court to cancel its own decision, thereby violating the basic principles of the supremacy of the court and finality of litigation. The settlers have proven that by political pressure on ministers and members of Knesset, they are able to cancel even Supreme Court rulings.
2. According to the agreement, for the first time since 1992 the government will officially establish a new settlement in an isolated, mountainous area deep into the West Bank, in an area that will not remain under Israeli sovereignty in any prospective agreement. The new settlement is another obstacle to peace and to Israel’s ability to separate from the Palestinians into two states.
3. The agreement allows the Migron settlers to continue living on land that is not theirs and belongs to Palestinian owners, until the construction of the new settlement is finished, which could take more than a decade (the construction of settlements for the Gush Katif evacuees still goes on). The government does not really intend to evacuate the residents of the outpost and is managing to postpone the evacuation by many years yet again.
4. Even after the new settlement is built, the government does not intend to evacuate the original outpost. Actually, after the new settlement is built there will be Migron I and Migron II. Thus, the settlers and the government are making a mockery of the rule of law and instead of evacuating an illegal outposts, the government is duplicating it and creating two new settlements.
5. The planning and construction of the new settlement in the intended area will cost the Israeli tax payer astronomic sums in the hundreds of millions of shekels. Just the initial planning and building stages are expected to cost NIS 200 million, an average of NIS 5 million per family. The location on which the settlers insist is a mountainous and difficult terrain, making construction costs particularly high. In the past, the settlers were offered to move to a new neighborhood in the settlement of Adam at a lower cost, but they rejected the offer and insisted on staying in the outpost.
6 The compromise agreement will encourage the settlers to continue building outposts and buildings illegally. They will learn that crime pays: the government surrenders and rewards anyone who builds and initiates illegal outposts in the occupied territories, even on private Palestinian land. The settlers are managing to defeat the state and decide how much and where Israel should build in the territories. Even the Supreme Court and its unequivocal judgment cannot stop the continued illegal construction on the ground.