Amona is a small Jewish/Israeli settlement in the central West Bank, that has become a kind of test-case for the continuation of the settlement movement. It was founded in 1995 without Government support and was considered an “outpost” or small illegal settlement. However, after being closed down by the Government it was re-settled and grew until it contains over 200 homes.
At some point during the past years a suit was brought to court that Amona was settled on private Palestinian land. This case eventually went to the Supreme Court of Israel and it was ruled last Friday that it had been built on private Palestinian land and must be demolished. The Court gave the Government until Dec 25 to carry out the final destruction of Amona. The Government has tried to delay this date, but has been unsuccessful. Meanwhile settlers and their supporters are demonstrating outside the Knesset in Jerusalem.
In response, the settlement movement and its supporters in the Knesset, including the Yisrael Beitanu party, have initiated a Bill that would declare Amona is a legal settlement by allowing the Government to legalize the appropriation of the land it is built on. In a way this is undercutting the whole basis of the Supreme Court’s case by essentially changing the law upon which the suit was based. In effect, this is a perfectly legal means to proceed, since it is very common for governments to declare so-called “eminent domain” over private property that it wants to expropriate for its own purposes.
For example, my uncle Izzy owned a large house and store on the corner of a major road in London. The British Government wanted to widen the road and declared eminent domain on his and other people’s properties. They were expropriated and were given only a fraction of their value in return. In compensation, my Uncle and Aunt received a small apartment and a smaller store nearby. The use of eminent domain is common to take private land to build roads, railways, airports and even settlements.
The opposition claims that this process would be undemocratic and would undermine the authority of the Supreme Court by in effect changing the rules after they have ruled. In the Government coalition the Yisrael Beitanu party led by Minister Yossi Bennett and the Kulanu party of Minister Moshe Kahlon are on opposite sides of this debate, and it could have led to a Coalition crisis that could bring down the Netanyahu Government. But, Kahlon soon backed down in face of opposition. PM Netanyahu has opposed the introduction of this Bill, although he is in principle in favor of saving Amona. The Attorney General Aaron Mandelblit has warned that if the Bill is passed it will be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. It seems that a diplomatic solution to this crisis will be found that will evade a Coalition breakdown and allow the Government to save face, although the fate of Amona seems unavoidable.