Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to oppose legislation that aims to legalize West Bank settlements has drawn staunch criticism from right-wing lawmakers, who vowed on Saturday to pursue the ratification bill more aggressively.
The legislation proposes to bypass a High Court of Justice ruling that calls for the removal of homes located in Ulpana, a neighborhood built on contested land in the West Bank settlement of Beit El. If passed, the bill would assert that an owner who fails to challenge illegal construction on his land within four years, essentially forgoes his right to do so.
- Netanyahu: Ulpana will be evacuated
Barak: Beit El has alternative land for Ulpana
Ulpana evictees to be resettled in caravillas
Coalition Chairman Zeev Elkin (Likud) announced that the Knesset plenum will vote on the bill on Wednesday.
Voicing rare disapproval of the prime minister, Elkin accused Netanyahu of "blatant violation of his commitment to his voters."
He noted that the razing of the homes could set a dangerous precedent that could affect thousands of homes, and called on lawmakers to prevent the "terrible injustice" from happening.
"The forceful destruction of the Ulpana neighborhood is great mistake," he said.
A senior IDF officer said that the army is anticipating the evacuation to cause unrest.
"These kinds of events drain much of our energy," he said.
'Evacuation is wrong'
Knesset Member Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi), who proposed the law but agreed to put it on hold in order to allow Netanyahu time to find an alternative solution, joined Elkin in condemning the prime minister's decision.
"The thought of evacuating (Ulpana) is fundamentally wrong," he said, noting that his proposal legalizes 9,000 homes built on contested land in several outposts, including Amona and Givat Asaf.
Ulpana neighborhood. Devastating implications (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
Earlier Saturday, Netanyahu expressed his intention to shift the five homes that are set to be razed by July 1 to another location, and suggested that 50 new houses are to be built in their stead across the West Bank.
Orlev called on the government's ministers to reject Netanyahu's solution and threatened that his faction will quit the Coalition if the bill isn't passed.
National Union Chairman MK Yaakov Katz reiterated the concern that the prime minister's decision could have harsh implications for other West Bank outposts, warning of a "domino effect" that might lead to the displacement of tens of thousands of Jews.
"We're talking about the expulsion of 70,000 of Jews, the obliteration of entire communities, (a territory) ten times bigger than Gush Katif – a mega-disengagement," he said.
Minister Michael Eitan (Likud), on the other hand, stood by Netanyahu, saying that Orlev's bill will be detrimental to Israeli interests and will eventually be stricken down by the court.
"The prime minister and the government don't want to hurt the settlements and the settlers, but they must abide by the High Court's ruling and to preserve the rule of law," he said.
'Terrible clashes with IDF will erupt'
Meanwhile, Ulpana's residents warned Netanyahu of the repercussions and said they felt cheated after the prime minister ordered to freeze preparations for an evacuation.
"The prime minister himself said this was something the people cannot withstand and he doesn't mean to keep to it either," said Didi Dickstein. "I fear of the terrible consequences this could have, there will be a clash. Though we love the country, there will be a terrible clash between ourselves and the soldiers," he said.
Ulpana neighborhood spokesman Harel Cohen said, "The Ehud Barak government put us here 12 years ago, giving us incentives, grants, mortgages, roads, pavements and infrastructure.
Netanyahu and Barak (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
"The Ulpana neighborhood will not be moved even if it was made of lego, just as the Akirov and Assuta towers won't be moved," he said, referring to the defense minister's luxury Tel Aviv residence.
"Everyone understands that this is the beginning of the struggle for the future of the entire settlement," said Yoel Patel.
"A second case of Amona is certainly possible. We feel cheated, Netanyahu said he was freezing the preparations and ended up doing something else."
The residents are planning to spend the next four weeks before the scheduled evacuation protesting with the support of rightist MKs. "On Monday, we shall all march towards the Knesset for three days, including women and children," said Dickstein.
Itamar Fleishman contributed to this report
Attila Somfalvi contributed to the report
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