Contrary to reports issued this morning by Defense Minister Amir Peretz's office, it is now clear that Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has not approved the evacuation of Peace House in Hevron.

It was similarly announced that Peretz had instructed the Coordinator of IDF Activities in Judea and Samaria, Maj.-Gen. Yosef Mishlav, to prepare for the evacuation.

The Justice Ministry confirmed this afternoon that Mazuz had found no reason to order an immediate evacuation, but rather that the residents must be informed in advance of the intentions to evacuate them, and be allowed a hearing and a court appeal if necessary.

It is not clear why Peretz's office released the mistaken information regarding Mazuz; Arutz-7 has submitted a query to the Defense Minister's office as to why this announcement was made, and on what basis Mishlav was given the above order.

In response, the Defense Minister's spokesman relayed a copy of the original announcement, which reads: "Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Amir Peretz instructed [Gen. Mishlav] this evening [Tuesday] to evacuate the settlers who occupied the building in Hevron without a permit.  The orders come as a result of [or, following] the summation of a meeting and legal opinion that was received today [Tuesday] from Attorney General Mazuz on the matter.  It should be emphasized that the evacuation order is being issued because populating the building was done without the legally required permit."

As of late Wednesday afternoon, no evacuation orders had been ordered to the new residents.

The Defense Minister's spokesman also relayed a transcript of Peretz's remarks today on Voice of Israel, in which the interviewer asked, "I must tell you, Mr. Defense Minister, that I don't feel at ease. I hear that the Attorney General says that there is no reason at all - not in terms of security nor in terms of legal issues - to evacuate these people. I hear from the Interior Minister that you can't do it because you're not the government and you don't have the mandate to do it. And you're telling me totally different things."

Another reporter then interrupted and said, "Could it be that the reason for the evacuation is political?"

Peretz responded, "It is not at all connected with political considerations.  There is a policy [regarding settlement]... It's not at all political, but rather a question of authority and the rule of law. Wherever the law must be enforced, I will do so in the legal ways at my disposal. I am acting according to the conclusions [that were reached]. The representatives of the Defense Ministry's legal counsel were also at the meeting, and also those of the Military Prosecution, and we are acting according to instructions that were concluded at the meeting led by the Attorney General."

History, Location, Size

The house in question was purchased by a Jewish group via a Jordanian businessman for $700,000. Though opponents of the deal say they question its legality, no substantial claim has been made that it is fraudulent. In fact, the PA has issued an arrest warrant for the Arabs who sold the building.

The new Jewish residence, with some 4,000 square meters of floor space, is set to house at least 20 new Jewish families. This will ease somewhat the housing crunch for Jews who wish to join the existing 500+ Jews who currently live in Hevron. The building is strategically located - on the eastern edge of Hevron, overlooking Kiryat Arba, and on the route along which Jews walk and drive daily from Kiryat Arba to the Machpelah Cave and the Jewish areas in Hevron.

The Attorney General held a meeting regarding Peretz's desire to evacuate the buildings last night (Tuesday). Mazuz said that neither of the two reasons that would justify an immediate evacuation exist. For one thing, there is no security danger inherent in a Jewish presence there; the IDF is not against it, and in fact has had a position on the building's roof in the past years. In addition, the new Jewish residents cannot be termed "squatters" or "infiltrators" because the sale has not been shown to be illegal.

On the other hand, Mazuz told Peretz that if he wants to evacuate the building, he must implement a longer process that will allow the Jews who purchased it to appeal to the Supreme Court. This route involves the claim that every acquisition in Yesha (Judea and Samaria) must be approved in advance. It is widely agreed that this is a process that could easily take months, and the residents currently there are preparing either to remain for the long haul, or to make way for others who will. 

MK Uri Ariel (National Union) advised Peretz today to back down from his desire to evacuate the building. "For one thing," Ariel said on the Knesset Channel, "it's not Peretz's decision to make, but rather the entire government's. [Interior Minister Roni Bar-On of Kadima made the same point in a different interview - ed.] The Cabinet must discuss it and approve it, and I don’t believe it will give its OK to Peretz's political needs. Peretz may soon find himself totally isolated and disgraced if he doesn't backtrack."

Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) visited the building today, and expressed his support for the Jewish presence there.