Israeli settlers from an unauthorized West Bank outpost said Monday they have accepted an offer from the government to stay put for two more years, despite Israeli Supreme Court orders to evacuate them next month.
The Migron settlement, built in 2001 on what authorities say is private Palestinian land, is seen as a test case for the Israeli government's resolve _ or lack thereof _ concerning unauthorized settlement outposts.
Monday's deal, which still needs Supreme Court approval, would allow the government to delay what is likely to be a violent confrontation with the settlers. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supports the proposal but it is still not finalized, officials say.
Under the proposal, Israel would build an entirely new settlement on a nearby hilltop to house the evicted Migron dwellers, said Migron spokesman Itay Chemo. The decision comes despite an Israeli promise to the U.S. that it would not initiate new settlements in the West Bank, nor expand existing ones.
"We think it is a victory," Chemo said. "Finally there is an agreement to bring about justice, not just to destroy, and to take a little bit of national responsibility."
Chemo claimed that construction of the new settlement would take about two years to complete, and that Migron residents would be allowed to remain in their homes until then.
The deal, however, is far from complete. An Israeli official said the proposal would have to be reviewed by Israel's attorney general, and then presented to the Supreme Court for approval. There is no guarantee that the court, known for its independence, will approve the proposal.
Benny Begin, the Cabinet Minister who negotiated the deal, said it was "premature" to declare the matter closed. "There's no agreement yet, and the parameters are uncertain," he said.
Israel promised the U.S. in 2003 to dismantle Migron and dozens more unauthorized settler outposts built on land Palestinians claim for a future state. But it has flouted that promise.
Migron was built in 2001 on what authorities say is private Palestinian land. Settlers say no Arab plaintiffs have yet proved land ownership. They say they have a God-given right to populate the West Bank.
The Israeli dovish group Peace Now objected to the proposal, accusing the government of stalling and finding an excuse to build a new settlement.
"It's a way to ignore and violate the decision of the Supreme Court," said Peace Now's director, Yariv Oppenheimer.