Renewed Questions About Future of Settlements After Amona Evacuation
JNS.org – Israel carried out the much-discussed evacuation of the Jewish outpost of Amona last week. The controversy raised renewed questions about the future of Israeli settlements, with Israeli lawmakers seeking to retroactively legalize numerous outposts, and the Trump Administration possibly offering newfound support for the settlement enterprise.
For Israeli supporters of settlements in the West Bank (known commonly as Judea and Samaria), the evacuation of 40 families and hundreds of protesters from Amona (located approximately 10 miles north of Jerusalem) was a painful event.
“We were mutilated, violated — symbolically, metaphorically, I don’t know what to say,” said Eli Greenberg, who along with his wife and eight children lived in Amona for nearly 20 years.
Greenberg were forced to spend Shabbat in a single room of a youth hostel. They were placed there by the Israeli government, after a plan to relocate Amona’s residents to an adjacent plot of land was shot down by Israel’s High Court.
Yet for Gilad Grossman, a spokesman for the Israeli non-governmental organization Yesh Din, the evacuation represented an “important day for the rule of law in Israel.” Israel’s High Court ruled in late 2014 that the Amona outpost had to be demolished because it was built without appropriate administrative permits, and because some of the land it was built on belonged to Palestinians.
“The evacuation was an important step towards the return of the Palestinian landowners to their land,” Grossman told JNS.org. “We hope that they will be able to return as soon as possible.”
The conundrum of evacuations
Evacuations of settlements represent an ideological and political conundrum in Israel.
On one hand, many Israelis believe in the ideological underpinnings of the settlement enterprise — as well as the legal and historical claims to the disputed territories. On the other hand, there has been intense international pressure to cede territories, and consecutive Israeli governments have been unwilling to officially annex the West Bank. This is due to fear of the international reaction, and the fact that Israel would have to take sovereign responsibility for well over 1 million West Bank Arabs.
Israel’s High Court has ruled that other outposts similar to Amona must be evacuated in the coming months, and the evacuation of nine permanent homes in the larger settlement of Ofra, which is adjacent to Amona, have been ordered for the coming weeks.
Israeli lawmakers are now seeking to retroactively legalize more than 4,000 outpost homes to ensure that scenes like the evacuation of Amona don’t happen in the future.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, whose Jewish Home party is advancing the outpost “Normalization Law,” said that “from this legal defeat we will establish a new legal regime in Judea and Samaria that will regulate the entirety of settlements.” He also said that Israeli should assert “sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria.”
“We lost the battle, but we are winning the war for the land of Israel,” Bennett added.
But according to Grossman, the Normalization Law “is an illegal and immoral law that basically is meant to whitewash land theft.”
Are settlements an obstacle to peace?
The administration of former US President Barack Obama, along with the United Nations and much of Europe, considered the continued presence and natural growth of settlements as a major obstacle to peace.
It is widely believed that the Trump Administration does not view the issue of Jewish housing in Judea and Samaria as the primary cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump’s designated ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is a longtime financial supporter of the religious Beit El settlement, which is adjacent to the Palestinian city of Ramallah and just two miles from Amona.
Even in its critique of Israel’s recent announcement of new settlement construction, the Trump Administration’s statement was carefully worded and specifically refused to take a definitive position on the issue.
“While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on February 2. “As the president has expressed many times, he hopes to achieve peace throughout the Middle East region. The Trump administration has not taken an official position on settlement activity and looks forward to continuing discussions, including with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu when he visits with President Trump later this month.”
Many mainstream media outlets published headlines quoting Spicer’s comment that settlements “may not be helpful,” insinuating that the new administration is opposed to Israeli settlements. Yet a more careful reading of the statement signals that even large-scale building within existing settlements could be acceptable.
In sum, it’s still unclear what Trump’s position actually is.
Fading prospects for two-state solution
Yesh Din’s Grossman is hopeful that international pressure will remain strong on Israel to push for further evacuations, as a necessary step toward a final status peace agreement with the Palestinians. “I can only hope that the political leaders on both sides will find a way to reach a peace solution,” he said. “And I think that everybody in Israel hopes for that outcome.”
Yet millions of supporters of the settlement enterprise, in addition to the 400,000 residents of the settlements, do not believe that most Israelis want a two-state solution.
Evacuated Amona resident Eli Greenberg is hopeful that no Palestinian state will be created on the land where his home once stood, and suggested that based on the strength of the now-displaced community, the Amona evacuation will ultimately lead to the rededication of a new settlement.
“The community is definitely very strong,” said Greenberg. “We will be strong. We have to fight the holy war of this holy people.”