Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday came under heavy political fire for determining that five houses built on a disputed piece of land in the Jewish community of Beit El in Samaria will be demolished in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling.
The houses in question are part of a small neighborhood known as Ulplana that was built more than five years ago. Only five of the Ulpana's 14 apartment buildings were deemed to be situated on land still owned by a Palestinian Arab, despite the fact that the entire neighborhood is situated within the boundaries of Beit El established in 1977.
Just to make sure they weren't stealing anyone's land, Beit El did pay for the land upon which Ulpana sits. Back in 2000, the Beit el Development Company identified the grandson of the man whom Jordanian records showed previously owned the land, and paid him for it.
But through some legal gymnastics, left-wing Israeli groups, with the help of Palestinian courts, declared that Beit El had purchased the land from the wrong grandson, and that the construction of Jewish homes on it had therefore been illegal. Israel's Supreme Court agreed, and ordered the five buildings demolished no later than July 1.
Right-wing lawmakers were incensed, and proposed a new bill that stated any land owner who did not challenge construction on the land he claimed to own within four years would lose the legal right to do so. Netanyahu said the bill was dangerous, and would open Israel up to a new wave of international criticism, though he did promise to move the Ulpana homes to another part of Beit El and build more homes in other settlements.
His critics in the Knesset responded that Israel's settlement enterprise is already the recipient of exaggerated international condemnation, and that Netanyahu was helping to set a dangerous precedent whereby any and all unsubstantiated Palestinian claims could bring Jewish construction to a standstill.
"The forceful destruction of the Ulpana neighborhood is great mistake," said coalition chairman Zeev Elkin (Likud).
At least one media commentator wondered why Israel was using Jordanian land records to make such decisions, considering that Jordan's occupation of Judea and Samaria was never recognized. It was also pointed out that in Israel, if privately-owned land is not worked or built upon for a period of 10 years, it reverts to state control. Only in Judea and Samaria (the so-called "West Bank") does this not hold true.
Meanwhile, the residents of Ulpana warned they would not go quietly.
"Everyone understand that this is the beginning of the battle for the whole settlement enterprise," one resident told Israel's Ynet news portal. Another expressed fear over the "terrible consequences from things that will happen here. There will be a clash, even though we love Israel, there will be a terrible clash between us and the soldiers."
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