- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2005

AMONA OUTPOST, West Bank — A row of nine uninhabited houses on a windy hilltop could be the site of the next struggle over the future of Israel’s West Bank settlements.

Complying with a Supreme Court directive, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has ordered Amona’s houses demolished by the end of January, setting up a possible violent confrontation with Jewish settlers who consider the move an extension of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s evacuation of Gaza settlements.

“We call it disengagement, part two. The fate of these permanent houses should be the same as any house in Ofra,” said Yitzhak Meir, mayor of Amona’s parent settlement of Ofra.

“I hope we won’t need to and that the army won’t go through with it, but I have no doubt that the struggle won’t be like it was in Gush Katif,” where resistance to Israeli soldiers was less violent than anticipated.

“People don’t feel comfortable with the way the struggle ended in Gush Katif. I don’t plan to stand with signs if they come to destroy the houses. People will feel like they are defending their house,” he said.

After Israeli security forces evicted 15,000 residents and protesters from the Gush Katif settlement and others in Gaza and in the northern West Bank, the next stage could be the hilltop outposts like Amona, which are essentially settlement startups.

They are an easy target for Mr. Sharon’s administration after a government commission this year declared the outposts illegal.

Under the U.S.-sponsored “road map” peace plan, Israel is committed to dismantling the settlements created since Mr. Sharon came into office.

“The American administration has made it very clear that this is the next stage,” said Shmuel Bar, a Middle East expert at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center.

For the past 18 months, the Bush administration has been ignoring the outposts to avoid pressuring Mr. Sharon as he battled his party on a troop pullout from Gaza

“We’ve just been focusing on a successful Gaza disengagement,” said a U.S. diplomat.

Peace Now spokesman Yair Oppenheimer said the success in evacuating the Gaza settlements showed what can be done, if there is a will.

“The disengagement shows that if the Israeli government wants to evacuate settlement outposts, it can do it very smoothly, easily and quickly,” Mr. Oppenheimer said. “We expect the government to fulfill its promise to evacuate the outposts.”

But the army met strong opposition when dismantling uninhabited outposts in October.

“That was just a reminder that we’re still out there, and we can put together thousands of youth,” said Baruch Ben Yosef, one of the patrons of Mishmeret Yesha, an organization that pays for equipment and trains settlers to guard the outposts.

Since the late 1990s, West Bank settlers have established 101 renegade outposts with a population of at least 2,000. And government bureaucrats fueled the expansion, granting permits for construction, electricity and phones.

Considered part of Ofra, Amona sits on high ground less than a mile from the streets of the oldest settlement in the northern West Bank. It was located to secure a hilltop that overlooks the settlement.

The community has its own government, and Mr. Meir said he’d be happy to see the hilltop develop into an independent settlement.

A tempest blows regularly leaving unsecured doors creaking in the wind.

“This isn’t a place for human beings,” said Einat, a seven-year resident who refused to give her last name, as her children played nearby. “We live above the face of nature.”

A petition to the Supreme Court by Peace Now charged that Amona had been built on land registered to Palestinians. In July, the court ordered the families to leave, and in October, justices ordered the houses destroyed.

The demolition would mark the first time in 38 years that the government has removed buildings in the West Bank apart from two small communities that were dismantled along with the Gaza settlements.

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