Ulpana neighborhood
Ulpana neighborhoodצילום: פלאש 90

Officials in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office have begun reaching out to residents of the Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El, and to activists involved in the struggle to keep the residents in their homes, in order to work out a voluntary evacuation of the families living in five apartment buildings slated to be moved.

With the defeat in the Knesset Wednesday of the Regulation Law which would have allowed the families to remain in their homes, a plan proposed by Netanyahu is set to come into effect, with the buildings to be physically moved, and hundreds of new apartments to be built in the city.

Netanyahu plans to establish a committee which will handle aspects of the move, including temporary relocation of the families and the practical aspects of the dismantling and reconstruction of the buildings. Among the names proposed for chairman of the committee is Effi Eitam, a former government minister and MK from the National Religious Party who is well known and highly respected among residents of Judea and Samaria.

The actual moving of the buildings could take as long as a year, officials in the government said Thursday. Projected costs for the project have ranged from between NIS 6 million and NIS 30 million, with Netanyahu saying that it was likely to cost about NIS 14 million. We must "respond to the families of the neighborhood in a way that is practical, legal, and economical," Netanyahu said earlier this week. "Building them new homes will cost less than buying any apartment in Tel Aviv." Residents of the buildings will live in caravans for the duration of the building transfer.

The U.S. has reacted angrily at Netanyahu's announcement that over 800 homes would be built as part of the deal to remove the Ulpana residents from their homes. “We're very clear that continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank undermines peace efforts and contradicts Israeli commitments and obligations, including the 2003 road map," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday. "You know, our position on settlements remains unchanged. We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” he added.