Ulpana Protest Tent in Jerusalem
Ulpana Protest Tent in JerusalemIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's “victory” on Wednesday, in which he pushed nearly all members of his coalition to reject the Regulation Bill, may turn out to be a pyrrhic one. Already there are predictions of unrest among residents of Judea and Samaria when the government tries to demolish, or at least dismantle, five homes in the Ulpana neighborhood; reports on Israel Radio Thursday said that posters and flyers have been seen in Beit El, calling for massive protests to prevent the tractors from coming into town to demolish or move the buildings.

Under a plan proposed by Netanyahu, the buildings will be moved to another location in Beit El and not demolished, but many leaders of communities in Yesha are extremely uncomfortable with this idea, since it sets a precedent for the removal of an established Jewish community in Judea and Samaria. Earlier this week, for example, National Union Chairman MK Ya'akov Katz (Ketzaleh) appealed to Netanyahu not to demolish or move the buildings, even if the residents were to be evacuated.

A report in this weekend's Makor Rishon says that Netanyahu has been extremely concerned over his plan to move the buildings backfiring, as there was a chance that actually moving the structures might entail technical problems. And, even though he promised to build hundreds of apartments in Judea and Samaria – including 300 in Beit El – many on the right are skeptical of his ability, or willingness, to overcome opposition in his now very large coalition, and of his Defense Minister, and move forward with such an ambitious plan.

As such, the likelihood of tension, unrest, and perhaps even violence is “not small,” one government officials said. And as a result, Netanyahu has been examining several ideas to prevent that unrest.

One idea that Netanyahu is reportedly seriously considering, said the paper, is the confiscation of the buildings for use by the IDF. While the idea of a state confiscating disputed territory or private property from an owner in order to transfer it to other private owners is questionable under international law – and the basis of the High Court's order that, as per the demands of the land's Arab owners, the buildings be demolished – international conventions permit the confiscation of land for security and defense purposes. The buildings could be confiscated and turned into a logistics center, or even dormitories, for soldiers stationed in the Beit El area, the report said, ensuring that the buildings could remain intact and avoiding the inevitable angry protests that would accompany the de-construction work.

The idea is being examined from legal and political angles, the report said, and at the moment the State Attorney's office is not convinced that it would stand up legally. However, leaders of Yesha communities have reportedly embraced the idea. The report quoted a senior member of the Yesha Council as saying that “any solution that does not require the demolition of the buildings will be seen in a very positive light. We would be prepared to accept such a plan, as long as Netanyahu promises that this would not set a precedent for other cases.

We are not looking for confrontations, but it must be understood that this is not a Beit El issue,” the official told the paper. “This event will impact dozens of communities throughout Judea and Samaria.” According to some estimates, leftist groups have prepared petitions challenging the legality of thousands of homes, claiming that they are built on private Arab land.

Residents of the Ulpana neighborhood expressed disappointment at the Knesset's rejection of the Regulation Law, which would have ensured their right to stay in their homes. Didi Eckstein, chairman of the neighborhood committee, said that “we are now deciding on a plan of action. We do not want to leave our homes.” The residents are not in favor of violence, he said, “but we not plan on leaving peacefully,” unless senior rabbinical leaders, like Harav Zalman Melamed, Chief Rabbi of Beit El, says that they should.

Beit El Local Authority Chairman Moshe Rosenbaum decried the law's rejection. “'Relocation' is just a fancy word for slow-motion demolition,” he said. “The people are very upset and it is up to the Prime Minister to prevent a further schism in the nation, which will come about because of the scenes of destruction and evacuation of families who have been living in their homes for over a decade.”