Israel backtracks on settlement demolition pledge
Published Friday 27/04/2012 22:36
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- The Israeli government on Friday asked the Supreme Court for a three-month delay in the demolition of five apartment buildings in a Jewish settlement on the West Bank, backtracking on a previous pledge to clear the site by May 1.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government agreed last year to remove the houses at Ulpana, on the edge of the Beit El settlement, after a court ruled they were built on private Palestinian land. Officials say 30 families live in the buildings.
However, Netanyahu has come under intense pressure from within his own Likud party and from other pro-settler coalition allies to delay the demolition.
"I would like to believe that the Supreme Court will not ask us to remove those settlers," Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told Reuters on Friday during a tour of Beit El, which lies in the center of the occupied West Bank.
Another minister, Benny Begin, said a delay would allow further checks into whether the land had been purchased legally by the current occupants, as they claimed.
One cabinet member, Moshe Yaalon, has warned that Netanyahu's coalition could fall apart if the homes are destroyed.
Most of the international community views all Jewish settlements in the West Bank as illegal. Israel distinguishes between settlements it has approved and outposts which were never granted official authorization.
However, Netanyahu's government is fighting a rearguard action to retrospectively legalize some of these sites, drawing often strong condemnation from Western allies and Palestinian leaders.
Earlier this week, the government granted legal status to three previously unauthorized outposts -- a move critics said had effectively created the first new official settlements in more than two decades.
Palestinians fear that such outposts, and the 130 formal settlements Israel has built in the territory it captured in a 1967 war, will deny them a viable state.
About 350,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, with a further 200,000 living on annexed land in East Jerusalem.