E1, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday he was seeking court approval to remove an outpost of Palestinian tents pitched in an area of the occupied West Bank that Israel has earmarked for a new settlement.
Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Palestinian outpost, built in the geographically sensitive area known as E1, could remain for six days while the issue of its removal was being discussed.
Netanyahu’s pledge last November to build settlements on E1 caused an outcry, with European diplomats warning that it could kill off any hope of creating a contiguous Palestinian state.
The prime minister’s office said in a statement on Saturday that the government was petitioning the court to retract its ruling on the outpost, and had instructed security forces to block off roads leading to the rocky desert terrain.
A group of Palestinian lawmakers was refused entry. But others who came from nearby villages made the long trek up the hillside northeast of Jerusalem to join scores of protesters who have erected 20 large, steel-framed tents in an effort to preserve the land for a future Palestinian state.
The encampment’s name, “Bab el Shams”, which means “Gateway to the Sun” in Arabic, was taken from a novel by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury which tells the history of the Palestinians through a love story. The writer called the protesters in solidarity.
Hanan Ashrawi, a top Palestine Liberation Organisation official, said Israeli forces had prevented her from entering the compound with other lawmakers.
“We will continue to try to enter the village of Bab el Shams, which to us means freedom,” she told Reuters.
For years Israel froze building in E1, which currently houses only a police headquarters, after coming under pressure from former U.S. President George W. Bush.
But Netanyahu has recently announced a wave of plans to expand settlements after the Palestinians won de-facto statehood recognition at the United Nations General Assembly last year.
International powers view all Jewish settlement building in areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War as detrimental to securing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
E1 covers some 4.6 sq miles (12 sq km) and is seen as particularly important because it not only juts into the narrow “waist” of the West Bank, but also backs onto East Jerusalem, where Palestinians want to establish their capital.
Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the West Bank, which is dominated by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, and the Gaza Strip, which is run by the rival Islamist group Hamas.
Approximately 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2010 over the issue of Israel’s continued settlement building.
Editing by Rosalind Russell