Israel’s Coalition Government Agrees to Temporarily Evacuate Divisive West Bank Settlement

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EVYATAR OUTPOST, West Bank—Israel’s new government reached a deal with leaders of an unauthorized settlement in the occupied West Bank that would see them evacuate the site, a temporary solution for an issue that has sharply divided the country’s ruling coalition.

Around 50 Jewish families built trailer-sized homes of concrete blocks and metal-sheet roofs on the hilltop outpost in Evyatar starting in May, sparking daily protests by local Palestinians who claim the land.

Under a deal between the government and residents of the outpost, the settlers will leave the site by Friday afternoon, according to a statement released by cabinet Secretary

Shalom Shlomo.

The government in return has promised to legalize the settlement in the future if the land is found not to belong to Palestinians.

The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank, condemned the deal and said it would fight it through legal means. “It reveals the true face of the [Bennett] government,” the PA’s foreign ministry said.

A settler used a bucket to water plants in the Evyatar outpost, West Bank, on July 1.



Photo:

Amir Levy/Getty Images

The compromise deal eases immediate pressure on a governing coalition made up of eight parties from across the political spectrum, including an independent Arab party for the first time. The ideologically different parties came together in June to end

Benjamin Netanyahu’s

12-year run in power, but they have struggled to maintain a united front over the fate of the outpost.

The deal placates Prime Minister

Naftali Bennett’s

right-wing base that favors building settlements in the West Bank. At the same time, it allows his left-wing coalition partners to say that the site has been evacuated and gives them time to prove the land belongs to Palestinians.

Just before the deal was unveiled, Israel’s minister of interior,

Ayelet Shaked,

who is a close partner of Mr. Bennett in his Yamina party, tweeted: “This is an important achievement for settlement of the land of Israel.”

Evyatar is one of around 40 such outposts built in the West Bank without permits in recent years, according to the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now. Settlers at the site have been working to build it up as quickly, with religious high-school students bused from around the country to help with construction labor.

Settlers built a bench in the Evyatar outpost, in the West Bank, on July 1.



Photo:

Amir Levy/Getty Images

While much of the international community considers all Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal, Israel has its own system of approvals for what it considers legal construction in the occupied territory, where several hundred thousand Israeli settlers live among millions of Palestinians.

Just two unauthorized Jewish outposts have been evacuated and razed in the past decade, while more than 15 have been legalized, a Peace Now representative said.

The Israeli military, which governs the Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank, said Evyatar had been built without any authorization, in a letter to the outpost’s lawyers in late June. It wanted to evacuate and raze the outpost because of clashes with nearby Palestinians who claim the land is theirs. Four Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military in these clashes, according to statements from the military.

Under the deal, the Israeli military will establish a permanent presence on the site while it carries out a survey over whether the hilltop is technically state property or belongs to Palestinians living nearby who claim they have farmed the land for decades. If some of the land is found to be state property, a Jewish religious seminary will be established on the site. Land that is found to belong to Palestinians will be evacuated.

Israelis celebrated in mid-June as the parliament approved a new coalition, ending former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year rule. His supporters gathered to cheer the country’s longest-serving leader as he takes on a new role as political opponent. Photo: Ariel Schalit/Associated Press (Video from 6/14/21)

Residents of Evyatar said they built the site in response to a nearby attack by a Palestinian assailant and out of a pioneering and Zionistic spirit. They strongly lobbied Mr. Bennett, who even up until Israel’s election in March, the country’s fourth since 2019, was urging former Prime Minister Netanyahu to pass legislation that would legalize outposts like Evyatar.

“Bennett promised he would safeguard right-wing interests,” said Yosef Frenkel, a 25-year-old full-time Torah learner and activist at the site who lives there with his wife, two young children and a baby in a makeshift structure just 32 square meters (some 340 square feet).

Mr. Bennett has been mum on the issue since taking the prime minister’s post. His office declined to comment on Thursday’s deal.

A U.S. State Department official on Wednesday condemned the establishment of the outpost. The Biden administration has said it opposes any unilateral steps by Israel that could harm chances of a two-state solution with the Palestinians, which would see an independent Palestinian state formed alongside Israel, including building new settlements in the West Bank where Palestinians hope to establish part of their future state.

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