Monday, March 26, 2012

The Migron Migraine

Israel’s High Court of Justice yesterday unanimously rejected a compromise deal between the government and the residents of Migron, which would have delayed for another three and a half years the dismantling of their settlement, which was built on private Palestinian lands. An earlier court decision had called for the settlement’s dismantling by April 1st; now the court has called for Migron to be demolished by August 1st.

Migron is the largest “outpost” in the West Bank and home to fifty families. It is located on a hilltop northeast of Jerusalem. The Peace Now organization defines “outposts” as “settlements that have been built in the West Bank without Israeli government authorization, in violation of Israeli law.” This is hard to understand as the government has invested millions of shekels in Migron’s development and in its protection by the army.

The compromise deal offered to the residents, which was negotiated by Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin, would have seen their homes rebuilt on Hayekev Hill on what is considered state-owned land and become part of the permanent settlement of Kochav Yaakov.

The court’s decision was both applauded and criticized, as can be expected in the highly polarized Israeli society. On the left it was welcomed as proof that the government is not above the rule of law and that the rights of private property ownership must be respected. On the right there were sharp words for newly appointed High Court President Asher Grunis and his court, claiming that they favored Arab interests over Jewish settlement and had surrendered to demands made by Peace Now.

As is frequently the case in Israel, the government’s maneuvering is highly political. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has threatened to pull his Yisrael Beitenu party out of the coalition if Migron is dismantled. In November, Lieberman told his faction members that he had made it clear to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that "Migron is not an illegal outpost.”

The court’s decision and the threats of his coalition partners leaves Netanyahu with the burden of finding the way to uphold the rule of law while continuing to stay in power. Commenting on the High Court’s decision, the prime minister stated that "the government of Israel, along with its citizens, respects the court and acts according to the nation's laws."

I don’t blame the residents of Migron for this situation. Like many others, they have been encouraged by the government to make their homes in the West Bank settlements in territories that can be described as “disputed”, to be politically correct. And I respect Begin for his efforts to achieve a compromise, as it was intended to prevent violent confrontations such as those witnessed at earlier outpost evacuations and in the disengagement from the Gaza Strip settlements.

The bottom line, without going into the more general issue of the validity of all the settlements, is that Israel’s highest judicial authority ruled that the outpost of Migron was built illegally on privately owned Palestinian land and must be dismantled. Political considerations cannot be an excuse to delay the implementation of the court’s ruling.

The photograph of Migron is from Peace Now, as posted on the B’tselem website in August 2011.

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