Lawyer: Israeli outpost deal a stalling tactic

Friday, March 23, 2012

JERUSALEM -- A deal to allow Jewish settlers to remain in their unauthorized West Bank outpost for another three years is a stalling tactic that could lead to them staying there, a lawyer told Israel's Supreme Court Thursday.

The court has ordered the Migron outpost taken down by the end of the month. Next week, the court is expected to decide whether to approve the agreement between the government and the settlers, which would allow the settlers to remain until 2015.

At that time, they would be moved to homes to be built nearby, in what the government describes as a new neighborhood of an existing settlement.

Israel's Supreme Court previously ruled that Migron was built on private Palestinian land, setting March 31 as the deadline for its dismantling. In a bid to avoid a potentially violent confrontation with Migron's 300 residents, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's pro-settler government struck a deal this month that would have them leave the outpost willingly once the new houses are ready.

Lawyer Michael Sfard, who is trying to scuttle the agreement, said the deal's acceptance would set a "dangerous precedent" and open the door for the government to sidestep evictions ordered by the court. Others say new laws could be passed in the meantime that would permit the settlers to stay put.

"If the government thinks it can resolve every court ruling that it finds inconvenient through requests for delays ... then requests for delays will always be submitted," Sfard said.

Cabinet Minister Benny Begin, who brokered the agreement, appeared at the hearing Thursday and pleaded with the court for flexibility. Begin is the son of a former prime minister who championed Israel's settlement enterprise.

Judges questioned him about the structure of the deal and how the settlers would be moved after the three years.

Migron spokesman Itai Chemo said the settlers have not decided whether to comply with a March 31 eviction. Previous evictions from outposts have sparked clashes between the settlers and security forces.

Some 300,000 Israelis live in more than 120 government-sanctioned settlements in the West Bank, war-won land sought by the Palestinians for a state, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

Starting in the 1990s, settlers also put up dozens of unauthorized outposts, most of them tiny.

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