Is­raeli pol­i­tics rocked by 40 fam­i­lies on a hill­top

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

AMONA OUT­POST, Pales­tinian Ter­ri­to­ries:

When a voice crack­led from speak­ers on the cold and rainy West Bank hill­top fi­nally an­nounc­ing a deal, hun­dreds of young Jewish pro­test­ers who had camped out re­luc­tantly started to leave. The youths with dan­gling side­locks and knit­ted skull­caps were sus­pend­ing their cam­paign fol­low­ing Sun­day’s agree­ment, but the power of their cause had al­ready been made clear.

A long-run­ning drama over the fu­ture of the small Jewish out­post of Amona in the oc­cu­pied Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory, where the youths were protest­ing, has rocked Is­raeli pol­i­tics and demon­strated the in­flu­ence of the coun­try’s far-right. Though only 40 fam­i­lies live in mainly car­a­van homes on the hill­top, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s gov­ern­ment found it­self tied in knots over how to re­move them be­fore a cour­tordered De­cem­ber 25 dead­line, re­sult­ing in Sun­day’s deal.

The con­tro­versy has led to a wider de­bate over the fu­ture of the West Bank and of a two-state so­lu­tion to the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, long the fo­cus of peace ef­forts but a pos­si­bil­ity many now see as fad­ing. Re­li­gious na­tion­al­ists in Ne­tanyahu’s coali­tion used Amona to push for the le­gal­iza­tion of sev­eral thou­sand other Is­raeli set­tler homes in the West Bank — a mea­sure that may yet pass. They also ad­vanced their ar­gu­ment for what they would like to see hap­pen over the long-term: Is­rael an­nex­ing most of the West Bank.

Some an­a­lysts see the ar­gu­ment as gain­ing more trac­tion than ever, par­tic­u­larly with Don­ald Trump tak­ing of­fice as US pres­i­dent in Jan­uary. “I be­lieve that we are wit­ness­ing now a slow but clear move from both ends of the po­lit­i­cal rain­bow to­ward se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion of the pos­si­bil­ity of an­nex­a­tion of some of the (Pales­tinian) ter­ri­to­ries,” Ye­didia Stern of The Is­rael Democ­racy In­sti­tute think-tank told AFP.

‘Pro­tect the land’

Is­raeli set­tle­ments are seen as ma­jor stum­bling blocks to peace ef­forts as they are built on land the Pales­tini­ans see as part of a fu­ture state of their own. All are con­sid­ered il­le­gal un­der in­ter­na­tional law, but Is­rael dif­fer­en­ti­ates be­tween those it has ap­proved and those it has not. Set­tle­ments such as Amona are called out­posts-those that Is­rael has not ap­proved. While it may seem un­likely that 40 fam­i­lies on a hill­top could wield such heavy in­flu­ence, Amona be­came sym­bolic.

Ne­tanyahu was forced to move care­fully even though the out­post was un­der the high court or­der to be evac­u­ated be­cause it was found to have been built on pri­vate Pales­tinian land. The set­tlers were re­fus­ing to leave, while their sup­port­ers from within and out­side the gov­ern­ment rushed to their de­fense. In 2006, the de­mo­li­tion of nine per­ma­nent houses in the same out­post led to clashes, and Ne­tanyahu was ea­ger to avoid vi­o­lence this time.

When the res­i­dents re­jected a gov­ern­ment pro­posal last week that would have moved 12 of the fam­i­lies to a nearby plot, sev­eral hun­dred hard­line youths filed into Amona to head off a feared im­mi­nent forced evac­u­a­tion. By Sun­day, they had drilled and welded for­ti­fi­ca­tions in­side Amona’s sy­n­a­gogue, with metal rods and chains put in place.

Vow­ing to peace­fully re­sist, they slept on the floor in­side the sy­n­a­gogue, in res­i­dents’ homes and in cars. Some took up po­si­tions on top of a water tower, while oth­ers at one point blocked roads with de­bris and scat­tered nails on the tar­mac. “We came to pro­tect the land, to show that we won’t give up with­out a fight,” a pro­tester in a black skull­cap who de­clined to give his name said at the sy­n­a­gogue be­fore dawn Sun­day. “Af­ter God gave us this land, we can­not give it up to the Arabs,” said the young man. At one point Sun­day, youths shouted down Hous­ing Min­is­ter Yoav Galant and blocked his car. — AFP

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