The government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in the midst of coping with growing social protest and a looming crisis with the Palestinians, has just been hit with another headache.
The Israeli Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling ordering the state to dismantle an illegal Jewish outpost five kilometers north of Jerusalem by the end of March 2012. It ruled that the 60 houses there had been built on Palestinian land a decade ago.
"We see this as a great legal achievement," Haggit Ofran of the left-wing organization Peace Now told The Media Line. "It is the first time that there is ruling with an actual deadline to evacuate an illegal settlement."
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch said in the unprecedented decision by the tribunal that no Jewish community could be built on private lands owned by Palestinians. She also recognized the difficulties inherent in evacuating the Jewish families from Migron, but noted it could have been avoided had the state enforced its own demolition orders.
Israel had promised the United States to dismantle the Migron structures years ago. Peace Now, a prominent, left-wing Israeli organization advocating a complete withdrawal from territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war, petitioned the High Court of Justice on the Migron matter five years ago on behalf of Palestinians who claimed they owned the land.
"The court had always waited for the state to implement the law or explain to them why it didn't," said Ofran, who monitors settlement building for Peace Now. "Until now, it had never actually given a decision which obligated a dismantling of a settlement."
"The bottom line is that the state tried to buy time for 10 years since it was erected and five years it has been in court. And the court understood that they can't wait anymore," Ofran said.
Israel's Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of Defense said they were waiting to receive the ruling before reacting to it officially.
Naftali Bennet, director of the Yesha Council, the organization representing Israelis living in post-1967 communities, harshly criticized the court for the dramatic ruling.
"This is a Supreme Court which has lost its way and is losing its legitimacy day after day," Naftali Bennet said on Israel Army radio.
Bennet noted that this same Supreme Court ruled recently that a known terrorist, Mustafa Dirani, who was freed in a prisoner exchange with Hizbullah, was allowed to return to Israel in order to sue the state over mistreatment while in Israeli prison.
For years, the court had sought the government's explanation of why the outpost, which had grown to house some 300 people, had not been vacated.
Touching Migron could be seen as political suicide for the Netanyahu government, propped up with right-wing support and a coalition based on opposing even the possibility of evacuating Jewish communities located in post-1967 territories.
On the other hand, says Prof. Shmuel Sandler, a senior researcher at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies near Tel Aviv, Netanyahu's coalition is more stable than it appears.
"The protests in the streets are actually making it more stable and the ones who could give Netanyahu problems are not interested in bringing down this government," Sandler told The Media Line. "Also, March is a long way off. Netanyahu will likely come to an arrangement with the settlers, maybe give them other land, and he'll take it (Migron) down."
The last time the government of Israel dismantled a Jewish community was in the summer of 2005 when then-prime minister Ariel Sharon withdrew more than 7,000 Israelis from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.
The court ruling came the same day the Israel Security Agency, also known as the Shin Bet, banned a dozen Jewish activists from entering all or parts of the West Bank. The activists had been suspected of burning mosques, cars and other Arab property; for attacks on Palestinians; and generally disturbing the public order.
"The bans were issued following intelligence gathered recently by the Shin Bet regarding a group of extremist activists who live in the Yitzhar area, and who have been involved in leading and carrying out violent, widespread, secret actions in the West Bank against Palestinians," a police statement said.
"The assessment by security officials is that these sorts of actions, in particular the arson attacks on mosques, have a significant potential for the escalation and deterioration of the general situation," the statement added.
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