x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Israeli parliament rejects bid to tear down outpost homes

Defiant Netanyahu pledges 300 more houses for Beit El.

JERUSALEM // Israel’s parliament yesterday rejected an attempt by hardliners to prevent the demolition of the illegal Ulpana outpost on the West Bank.

The vote set the stage for a showdown between the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Jewish settlers and their supporters in his government.

The Supreme Court has said the Ulpana outpost, where 30 families live, is illegal because it was built on private Palestinian land and must be demolished by July 1.

Parliamentary hardliners submitted yesterday’s legislation in a bid to keep the outpost’s five apartment buildings intact, and instead compensate the Palestinian landowners.

Mr Netanyahu opposed the legislation, which was defeated by a 69-22 vote in the 120-member parliament. Instead, he wants to uproot the Ulpana buildings and physically move them to Beit El, a nearby settlement.

Hardliners oppose the demolition or moving of the homes.

About 2,000 settlers, nearly all of them observant Jews wearing knit skull caps protested outside the parliament ahead of the vote, and some activists have begun hunger strikes to protest against the destruction of Ulpana. Settler leaders have promised peaceful resistance against the order.

Police, however, said two arrests were made when young demonstrators scuffled with authorities.

“The Knesset chose destruction instead of construction. We will not be deterred. We will continue to build,” said a settler leader, Dani Dayan. “We still haven’t decided how to proceed but the struggle will now go to the field we will fight for the buildings.”

After the vote, Mr Netanyahu moved to placate settlers by announcing plans to add 300 new homes to Beit El, which is near Ramallah.

“Beit El will be expanded, the 30 families will remain in Beit El, and 300 new families will join them,” he said after the vote in remarks relayed by public radio.

Mr Netanyahu has backed a plan to move the five buildings in Ulpana stone by stone to Beit El itself.

“Instead of diminishing Beit El, expanding it. Instead of harming the settlement, strengthening it,” he said.

The Israeli leader has come under attack for his decision to oppose legislation, but insisted his government remained a champion of the settler movement.

“I understand your pain. I share it,” Mr Netanyahu said.

“There is no government that would support the settler movement more than the one I head, we will continue to strengthen the settlement movement and strengthen the democracy.”

* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse