The long-delayed evacuation of the illegal Israeli West Bank outpost of Amona by the Israel Defense Forces is a necessary development – but cannot detract from the fact that the settlement drive in the occupied territory continues apace and is daily weakening prospects of a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state solution. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to build a new settlement for the evacuated settlers of Amona is a craven surrender to political pressure from the settlement movement.
We deplore the violence of the settlers and their supporters, encouraged by members of the Israeli government who should know better than to justify such lawlessness. Some 16 security officers have been hurt carrying out their duties. We send them good wishes for a speedy recovery. The events on the scene paint a worrying picture of Israeli settlers who have no respect for law and order – or even for the welfare of their fellow citizens.
Amona was founded without Israeli government approval in 1995 in the heart of the West Bank a little northeast of the Palestinian city of Ramallah and was home to between 40 and 50 families.
Amona was one of the first outposts – illegal settlements constructed without the required government authorization in contravention of Israeli statutes regulating planning and construction. These outposts have become an important way of widening the settlement movement and expanding it even ahead of government planning.
In the case of Amona, the land grab that led to its founding was particularly egregious because it was built on privately-cultivated Palestinian land belonging to residents of the villages of Silwad, Ein Yabrud and Taybeh. The land was duly registered to its owners in the official land registry.
Ever since its founding, the outpost had faced – and staved off – repeated demolition orders and rulings by the Supreme Court to evacuate. The first came in 1997, followed by another in 2003. The illegal settlers have been backed by the full weight of the settlement movement – which now dominates the government. The repeated delays in carrying out judicial decisions and legal orders have weakened the rule of law in Israel.
As part of a quid pro quo that allowed the evacuation of Amona, the Israeli Knesset is poised to vote on a government-backed bill to retroactively “legalize” some 16 other illegal outposts in the West Bank. Like Amona, most were built on private Palestinian land but the legislation outrageously supports the theft of this land and bans its rightful owners from accessing it or using it.
The fact that this bill is being brought to a vote within days of the Trump administration taking office shows that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his ultra-nationalist allies no longer fear US opposition to their settlement drive. They clearly do not care that Israel is isolating itself from many of its friends around the world and driving the country down a path that ends with total control of the West Bank and makes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict nearly impossible.
We fear the government will now “compensate” the settler movement for the loss of their outpost at Amona by allowing the construction of many new settlements. This is already happening with yet another announcement of thousands of new settler dwellings being approved by the government today, just the latest in a series amounting to a massive expansion of the settler presence in the West Bank.
Only the vigorous opposition of the international community can prevent the government from turning an apparent setback for the settlement movement into a new excuse to advance their cause. We hope that the United States will join – and lead – this opposition. Failure to do so would carry grave consequences indeed for the long-term future of Israeli democracy and security.