Some 50 settler families have voluntarily left the illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar under a deal reached with Israel’s new government, avoiding a crisis that had threatened the survival of the fragile coalition.
Hundreds of Palestinians from nearby villages protested as the settlers left the hilltop, south of Nablus, and seven were hurt in clashes with Israeli troops.
The Palestinian villagers claim that Evyatar was built on private Palestinian land. At least four Palestinians have been shot and killed by Israeli troops during nightly protests against the outpost.
Settlers moved on to the hilltop less than two months ago but succeeded in building a well-established community in record time, erecting permanent structures and roads, with water and electricity supplies. Fifty families moved to the site with many more on a waiting list to join.
When the new Israeli government was sworn in last month it realised that any move to forcibly evict the settlers would be met with mass resistance and would be a major embarrassment for prime minister Naftali Bennett of the right-wing Yamina party, who once served as the head of the Yesha settlers’ council.
Even so, defence minister Benny Gantz insisted the illegal community must be dismantled and the quicker the better because Evyatar was causing major friction with Palestinians.
A few days ago Mr Bennett and Mr Gantz struck a deal with the settlers. According to the arrangement, the buildings will remain and soldiers will be stationed on the hilltop while the Israeli legal authorities determine if any of the land can be classified as state land and, if so, a Jewish yeshiva religious seminary will be established on the hilltop.
The settlers continued building until just before evacuation. In the outpost’s central square an enormous star of David was welded out of iron pipes and painted blue. “It’ll be 10 metres high and will be visible from all of the surrounding villages, even from the Ramallah area,” said outpost resident Tzvi Succot.
The international community regards all settlements in the West Bank as illegal but Israeli law differentiates between settlements permitted by the defence ministry and illegal outposts.
Activists from the anti-settlement non-governmental organisation Peace Now hung signs on Friday morning outside the homes of two leaders of the left-wing parties in the coalition, Labor Party head Merav Michaeli and Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz. The signs had quotes from the Labor and Meretz election platforms regarding settlements and illegal outposts.
Peace Now termed the Evyatar agreement a “disgraceful capitulation” and said that unlike the right-wing factions of the government, which were fighting for their public, Mr Horowitz and Ms Michaeli had turned their backs on their voters and given a seal of approval to legalising outposts.