Amona residents approve last-minute deal for peaceful evacuation


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Residents of the Amona West Bank outpost approved a last-minute deal to stave off a large-scale forceful evacuation by the Israeli government.

The residents voted 45 in favor and 25 opposed with two abstentions to approve the deal.

Late on Saturday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett, the head of the right-wing Jewish Home political party, met with Amona families to offer them a deal that would build 24 homes on the same hilltop where they currently live and assist the other 16 families in finding homes nearby.

The offer comes after residents early Thursday morning voted 58-20 against a deal that would have seen about a dozen families relocated to another plot on the hill and the rest resettled in the nearby settlement of Ofra. A representative of the Amona residents said that deal offered no commitments and described it as “Swiss cheese.”

The new deal would require the Supreme Court to give the Israeli government an extra month to prepare living spaces on the new plot of land, which Israel has declared abandoned by its previous Palestinian residents.

The Supreme Court determined that Amona was built on Palestinian-owned land and ordered the residents to be removed by Dec. 25. It has turned down two requests by the government to extend the deadline for evacuation, but is expected to be amenable to the new request.

The Amona representatives had told Israeli media they thought the new deal would be a tough sell to fellow residents. The Amona residents were set to vote on the deal Sunday.

“We have done the maximum,” Netanyahu said at the start of the regular weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday. “Now I can only hope that the residents of Amona, who are now discussing the proposed outline among themselves, will accept it and this would be the right decision for them, for settlement, for the entire people of Israel and for the State of Israel.”

Netanyahu also said: “In recent months, especially in the past few weeks and the last few days, and yesterday, we have been making very great efforts to reach an agreed-upon solution in Amona. We have held dozens of discussions and submitted very many proposals, some I would say out-of-the-box, very creative proposals. We did so out of goodwill and love for settlement; love for settlement, indeed so. There has not been a government that showed more concern for settlement in the Land of Israel and no government will show more concern.”

Some 1,000 people gathered in Amona Saturday night to show support for the outpost and to hunker down to block the evacuation. Israel Defense Forces soldiers also reportedly have arrived in the area in preparation for the evacuation, which reportedly will take place this week.

In an open letter to the Amona residents that also was posted on his Facebook page, Netanyahu on Friday called on the families to refrain from violence against the security forces that will be sent to evacuate the outpost and to remove their children from the site prior to the evacuation.

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