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Israeli court upholds evacuation of 'illegal' outpost

The Israeli Supreme Court dismissed a petition by the Israeli government to postpone evacuating the illegal Amona outpost, built on privately-owned Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, ruling that the evacuation be carried out by Dec. 25 as previously ordered by the court. Justices Miriam Naor, Esther Hayut, and Hanan Meltzer reprimanded the state for its eleventh hour attempt to extend the deadline of evacuation, after implementation of the court's decision has already been repeatedly delayed since Palestinian landowners successfully petitioned to remove the outpost in 2008.

"The obligation to honor court rulings is not a matter of choice. It is essential to government by law to which everyone is subject, as part of the values of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state," Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted the court as saying. The Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, who represents the Palestinian landowners, reportedly said that "The court did well in rejecting the petition, which had nothing behind it except the prosecution's capitulation to political pressures."

The request for a six-month delay was supported by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and put forward last month by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. However, after Israel's Ministerial Committee for Legislation unanimously approved a law on Nov. 13 that would retroactively legalize all outposts in the occupied West Bank, the fate of Amona and the Israeli settlers illegally residing there remained unclear.

The Supreme Court said they would not comment on the advancement of the controversial bill, writing in their ruling Nov. 14 it did not affect their decision.

The so called "Formalization Bill" must still pass a preliminary reading and three readings in Israel's parliament, the Knesset, and go through discussions in the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. A preliminary reading is scheduled for Nov. 16.

The bill could also be challenged in court. Israel's attorney general Avichai Mendelblit said after the committee passed the bill that he would not be able to defend the legislation as it contravenes international law, and that there is no legal precedent for the expropriation of privately-owned land.

Israeli rights group Peace Now warned that "the cancellation of the law by the High Court will allow pro-settler members of Knesset to show their constituencies that they did everything in their powers to pass the law, and might further deteriorate the status of the High Court."

While the law would allow land to be "leased" to settlers—financially compensating Palestinian landowners who would not have the right to appeal—Peace Now said, "The idea of the lease is simply a bluff meant to evade land expropriation. History in the region has shown that what is temporary becomes permanent. Thus, the leasing means a de factoexpropriation."

"By approving this bill the government made theft a part of its official policy and took another step on the way towards a one-state reality," the group stressed.

PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi released a statement condemning the the bill, which she said came "in direct violation of international law and conventions that prohibit racism and territorial expansion as the result of war and violence."

"Israel's escalation of its illegal settlement enterprise and the continued theft of Palestinian land and resources, as well as its flagrant violations of Palestinian rights and freedoms, are the essence of its dangerous and destructive policies."

While the some 196 illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem are considered illegal under international law, a further 232 settler outposts are also considered illegal by Israeli domestic law. However, Israeli authorities have often individually legalized outposts retroactively by declaring them official settlements.

According to Peace Now, approximately 32% of settlements are built on private Palestinian lands, and pro-settler NGO Regavim has said that over 2,000 settler homes are located on private Palestinian lands, which would be affected by the proposed legislation.

From Maan News Agency, Nov. 14