Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is recommending that authorities physically move the buildings of an illegal West Bank outpost slated for demolition in hopes of defusing a political crisis roiling his governing coalition, an official said Tuesday.
The demolition order for the Ulpana settlement outpost has pitted Netanyahu against settler groups and their allies in his government.
Israel's Supreme Court has ordered the five buildings, home to 30 families, demolished by July 1 after determining they were built on private Palestinian land.
Jewish settlements are at the heart of the current impasse in Mideast peace efforts. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down three years ago, and the Palestinians refuse to restart negotiations until Israel freezes settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim both areas, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, for a future state.
Netanyahu says talks should resume without any preconditions and has refused calls for a full settlement freeze.
Netanyahu, however, recently expanded his coalition by bringing in the main opposition party Kadima. The alliance has given Netanyahu a commanding supermajority in parliament, making him less reliant on the hardliners who formerly dominated his coalition and raising speculation that he may soon offer new concessions to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
Settler groups oppose any demolition or move of the buildings at Ulpana. On Wednesday, hardliners in the government plan to present legislation that would essentially legalize the outpost and offer compensation to the Palestinian landowners.
Netanyahu opposes the legislation, fearing it would be struck down by the Supreme Court and embarrass Israel internationally. The prime minister has rallied top government leaders behind him and the bill is expected to be defeated in Wednesday's vote.
As an alternative, Netanyahu wants to uproot the homes and move them to the neighboring settlement of Beit El in order to avoid their destruction, the official said, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the matter. He said a final decision should come within several days.
Netanyahu, traditionally a supporter of the settlers, has also vowed to build dozens of additional homes in Beit El to compensate for the loss of Ulpana.
Critics say moving the homes, which could involve sawing them off their foundations and lifting them with trucks or cranes, is impractical and expensive. It also would not placate the settlers.
Settler sympathizers have held marches and hunger strikes in recent days to draw attention to the plight of the Ulpana residents.
"This same prime minister who represents the Zionist enterprise is the one who wants to destroy the houses. It is very hard for me and my neighbors to accept," Baruch Kitai, an Australian immigrant who lives in Ulpana, told Channel 2 TV.
"This is unjust," his wife, Michal, told the station. Asked how they would respond if they are evicted, she said: "We will respect the soldiers. I don't know what we will do. This is unjust."
A few hundred settlers marched near the Supreme Court in Jerusalem Tuesday evening in support of Ulpana. Protesters carried signs urging the government not to destroy the outpost.