Israel government, settlers cooperate in West Bank move
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A cluster of Jewish settlers ordered to be evicted by an Israeli court said on Wednesday they would go quietly, sparing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a showdown with a core constituency.
The 30 families living in five unauthorised apartment blocks in Beit El accepted a government proposal to move them and physically relocate the buildings. The state will also erect 300 new homes elsewhere in their settlement in the occupied West Bank.
"We are peaceful people," the settlers said in a statement after overnight negotiations between a Beit El rabbi and Netanyahu aides. "Fraternal struggles rupture all of society ... and consume our creative energies, which are meant to be building up the nation."
Israel's Supreme Court had ruled that the apartment blocks, on Beit El's Ulpana hill, should be torn down by July 1 as they sit on privately owned Palestinian land.
Such distinctions are largely irrelevant abroad, where all the settlements are viewed as illegal for taking in territory occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and where Palestinians seek statehood.
The issue is a main obstacle to a resumpition of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Netanyahu government, which has said it keep swathes of settlements under any future peace accord, wants to be seen as respecting Israel's judiciary. But it is also loath to upset the conservative prime minister's ultranationalist political base.
"From the beginning, we set out two goals: to uphold the law and strengthen the settlements. This deal meets both," Netanyahu said in a statement.
The government will ask the Supreme Court for a three-month extension to allow for the Ulpana buildings' relocation, the statement said.
Netanyahu wants to dismantle the structures and rebuild them elsewhere, to avoid footage of bulldozers and debris recalling Israel's removal of 8,000 Jews from Gaza, another Palestinian territory, in 2005. That pullout still stirs great settler resentment.
Some 311,000 Israeli settlers and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank. The United Nations deems all settlements in the West Bank to be illegal. Israel disputes this and has sanctioned 120 official settlements, most of them built on land which had no registered owner when it was seized in 1967.
But the anti-settlement group Peace Now says roughly 9,000 homes were built on land listed as owned by Palestinians. The fate of some of those houses is now in the hands of the Supreme Court, which is yet to rule on a number of ongoing cases.
Another demand by the Ulpana settlers was that Netanyahu guarantee there would be no more "absurd announcements and decisions about destroying blossoming neighbourhoods and communities".
(Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Angus MacSwan)
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