JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has reached a compromise with Jewish settlers who rapidly established an unauthorized outpost in the occupied West Bank last month, officials and the settlers said Wednesday.
Under the agreement, the settlers will leave by the end of the week. The area will become a closed military zone, but the houses and roads will remain in place. A survey will be carried out that the settlers say will prove the outpost was not established on land privately owned by Palestinians. That would pave the way authorization, allowing them to establish a religious school and for some families to return.
The settlers named the outpost Eviatar, after an Israeli killed by a Palestinian in 2013, and say it is home to dozens of families. It posed an early test for Israel's new government, which relies on a fragile coalition including parties that support and oppose the settlers.
Palestinians in nearby villages say the outpost was built on their land and fear it will grow and merge with larger settlements nearby. They have held near-daily protests against the outpost in which demonstrators hurl stones at Israeli troops, who fire tear gas and live ammunition. At least four protesters, including two teenagers, have been killed in the clashes.
The settlers announced a compromise earlier this week at a celebratory press conference, while the government said negotiations were still underway. This time, Israeli officials signaled it was a done deal.
Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's pro-settler party, tweeted that the deal is “an important achievement" for the settlement movement and thanked the “pioneers of Eviatar." Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, from the left-wing Labor Party, welcomed the evacuation of the settlers from the “illegal outpost.”
Yossi Dagan, head of a settler council in the northern West Bank, said the plan “is not the outline of our dreams" but was struck for the benefit of Israeli unity.
Daniella Weiss, the head of the settler group behind the outpost, said the survey would confirm the area is state land but might slightly adjust its boundaries. She expects the religious school will be established by the Jewish High Holidays in September, with living quarters for families connected to the school. “It will be more or less fully occupied,” she said.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, and the Palestinians want it to form the main part of their future state.
Nearly 500,000 Israelis live in more than 130 authorized settlements and dozens of outposts across the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians and much of the international community view all settlements as violation of international law and an obstacle to peace.
Israel's new government is led by Bennett, an ardent supporter of the settlers who is opposed to a Palestinian state. But it depends on an ideologically diverse coalition that include left-wing factions and a small Arab party opposed to settlements.
Eviatar was re-established in early May, days after an Israeli was killed in a drive-by shooting. Israeli troops have evacuated the outpost three times before, but this time the government decided to negotiate with the settlers, apparently to avoid the media spectacle of troops forcibly dragging away Israeli families.