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In legal repeal, Israel to permit settlers' return to north West Bank outposts

Eighteen years after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and from four settlements in the northern West Bank, the Knesset authorized Israelis to return to the four West Bank demolished outposts.
Israeli soldiers guard the road leading to the Homesh yeshiva, located at the former settlement of Homesh, west of Nablus, West Bank, Dec. 30, 2021.

The Israeli parliament rolled back on Monday parts of the 2005 Disengagement Law, which ordered the evacuation of four northern West Bank settlements, and thereby allowing them to return to the illegal outposts in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The law, formalizing Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, included at the time also the evacuation of four West Bank outposts. Since then, settlers have tried to repeal the law and return to the four settlements. Thirty-one Knesset members against 18 voted for the rollback, sponsored by nationalist Religious Zionism and far-right Jewish Power parties.

Shortly after the approval of the law, Minister of National Missions Orit Strock, Chairman of the Samaria Council (settlement umbrella organization) Yossi Dagan and several other settler leaders visited the flashpoint Homesh outpost. It was the first time since 2005 that such a visit was conducted legally and with Israel Defense Forces escort.

Years of campaigning

The 2005 Disengagement Law prevents Israelis from staying at abandoned lands in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. Settlers had delivered a fierce public opinion battle against the withdrawal of Israel from settlements at the Gush Katif region in Gaza and the four north West Bank outposts, pitting evacuated families with children against Israeli soldiers in scenes that traumatized Israel’s collective memory. Since then, over the years, the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip was more or less accepted by Israel’s right as irreversible. Still, settlers kept campaigning to return and rebuild the four demolished northern West Bank outposts — Homesh, Ganim, Kadim and Sa-Nur.

The campaign for resettling Homesh has become especially symbolic for Israel’s right. A makeshift yeshiva has been set up there, with the army continuously trying to prevent young settlers from getting to the remote site. Still, the IDF shied away from violent confrontations with the settlers, looking the other way on several occasions. This became evident especially after the murder of Yehuda Dimentman by a Palestinian assailant in December 2021 just outside Homesh. As such, repealing the legislation on the four settlements became part of the coalition agreements for the establishment of the current Netanyahu government.

What now?

The legislation’s will enable settlers to go back to the demolished outposts, but not yet to rebuild them. The voted draft was amended not to include rebuilding, to soften public objection. Settlers who lived there prior to the 2005 disengagement will not recuperate any ownership rights on the evacuated lands. Still, the rollback enables Israelis to buy land from Palestinians in the region.

For the Homesh makeshift yeshiva, the High Court had ruled that it was constructed on private Palestinian land, hence illegal regardless of the Disengagement Law. For the settlers to rebuild it, they would need another legislation legalizing the wildcat outpost. Be that as it may, the IDF estimates that an increasing number of settlers will arrive in Homesh, establishing facts on the ground, without waiting for the government to legalize the outpost. This would entail the presence of large security forces in the region and possible frictions with the local Palestinian population.

Another legal issue is the implementation of the Knesset decision. For an Israeli law to apply in West Bank territories, the military ruler — commander of the central command — must sign an order to that effect. Israeli media reports that this would happen only after the IDF conducts an assessment of the security implications of such a move, and certainly not before the end of the upcoming Ramadan month.

Reacting to the Knesset’s decision, anti-occupation group Peace Now issued a statement on Twitter. "The return of settlers to the northern West Bank will be a huge security burden and a focus of settler violence. This decision will also pave the way for establishing many more outposts in an area that is now almost entirely Palestinian. It is clear that in addition to the judicial coup, a Messianic revolution is taking place," the group said, warning that the decision will deepen the Israeli occupation. 

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