Speaking at Sunday morning's cabinet meeting, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that there was enough land in Beit El to allow residents of Givat Ha'ulpana to move into homes that had no legal questions surrounding them, as opposed to attempting to remain in homes that the High Court has declared do not belong to them.
Barak said that the High Court's ruling was not a technical matter, but an important principle of the rule of law, which the state must uphold if it is to call itself a modern democracy.
With that, Barak said that “the question of ownership of the land is still being adjudicated. If it turns out that the land is indeed private, there will be no choice but to evict the residents or to buy the land.”
The statement, observers said, indicated that Barak was willing to accept a compromise, if only to ensure that the coalition of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu remains intact. Several ministers and MKs, including Science Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, have said that any attempt by the government to remove residents of the neighborhood forcefully would mean the end of the Netanyahu government.
“We found 22 dunams of land in the town which could, under certain circumstances and after plans are approved, be used to build alternative homes for residents of the neighborhood,” Barak said. “If it turns out that the land is owned by Palestinians, we would have no choice other than to abandon it or purchase it,” he added.
Barak hinted his concern over a coalition breakup – which would likely mean the end of his tenure as Defense Minister – when he added that “there is no need to panic on this matter. Part of the panic comes not from the way we are dealing with the issue but from other sources, which I would rather not mention. The Defense Ministry and Civil Administration are working on the issue, along with the Attorney General and Justice Ministry.”
Givat Ha'Ulpana residents slammed Barak for suggesting that they move to “alternate homes” in Beit El. “Residents of the neighborhood recognized Ehud Barak for the good that he did as Prime Minister, when he provided benefits for residents of Beit El, paved roads in the town, and connected residents to infrastructure.”
With that, they said, “We are not chess pieces for Ehud Barak to play with, where he builds a house in one location and demolishes one in another. Nowhere in Israel, or in the world, do they tear down thriving neighborhoods, even if it turns out an error was made,” the residents said. Barak should do likewise and acknowledge the residents' rights to remain in their homes.