x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Israel postpones demolition of outpost on Palestinian land

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, agrees to put off the demolition of the Givat Asaf outpost for six months.

JERUSALEM // Under pressure from ultranationalist Jews, Israel has postponed the demolition of a settler outpost built on private Palestinian land.

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, agreed on Wednesday to put off the demolition of the Givat Asaf outpost for six months.

The announcement, reported yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, represented an about-turn for the Israeli premier. After forming a committee in October to review the legality of outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land, Mr Netanyahu announced that it was "forbidden to build on anyone's private land".

Government representatives also told Israel's supreme court earlier this year that Givat Asaf and five other outposts would be razed by the end of 2011. Dror Etkes, an Israeli settlement expert, said the case of these half-dozen outposts was particularly troublesome for Mr Netanyahu because all were in some way "clearly built on private land. There's no room for manoeuvre here".

Under international humanitarian law, it is illegal to transfer civilians to land seized in war. After Israel captured the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, however, it almost immediately began moving settlers there.

Today, more than 120 settlements are scattered across the West Bank, home to 300,000 Israelis. There are also 100 Jewish outposts that settlers have erected in an attempt to claim even more West Bank land. Unlike settlements, the government has not authorised these outposts but has typically turned a blind eye to them.

Mr Netanyahu agreed in February to work on retroactively legalising outposts on state-owned land. The issue of outposts on private land, however, remained divisive because it pitted the Israeli leader's pro-settler government against a supreme court that was ready to act on petitions against them.

Peace Now, the settlement watchdog group, asked the supreme court in 2007 to order the government to raze Givat Asaf and the other five outposts because they rest partly or entirely on private land.

Political imperatives, however, have intervened, Mr Etkes said.

"Netanyahu understands that if he demolishes, his coalition will split," he said, adding that the "only way to deal with this is postponing, postponing, postponing".

The Israeli leader has been faced recently with an escalating campaign of intimidation by suspected Jewish ultranationalists who, opposing the demolitions, have recently targeted mosques, cemeteries and even the Israeli military. Twelve settlers were arrested on Monday on suspicion of hurling rocks at a group of Israeli police officers who were sent to demolish three structures at the Oz Zion settlement outpost near Ramallah.

Ultranationalist Jews are also suspected to have torched three Palestinian cars near the West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday in so-called "price tag" attacks - retaliations for outpost and settlement demolition. A Palestinian house was also defaced with spray-painted slogans including: "There will be war over Givat Asaf".

That incident followed similar vandalism against the Jerusalem home of Hagit Ofran, an employee at Peace Now. A 21-year-old Jerusalem resident was reportedly arrested in connection with the spray-painting that urged "revenge" for the planned demolition of the Givat Asaf outpost.