JERUSALEM – Israel's parliament on Wednesday paved the way for the demolition of an illegal West Bank outpost by rejecting an attempt by hardline lawmakers to prevent the move.
The development sets the stage for a showdown between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish settlers and their supporters in his government.
Israel's Supreme Court has said the Ulpana outpost is illegal because it was built on private Palestinian land and ordered the outpost's five buildings taken down by July 1, a ruling Netanyahu says he will respect.
Hard-liners in parliament on Wednesday submitted a bid to leave the buildings, which house about 30 families, intact and instead give compensation to the Palestinian landowners. But the measure was resoundingly defeated by a 69-22 vote in the 120-member parliament.
Netanyahu had opposed the measure, saying it would likely be rejected by the Supreme Court and generate harsh international criticism.
In order to blunt settler anger, Netanyahu has come up with a novel solution: Instead of demolishing the buildings, he plans on removing them from their foundations and moving them to the nearby settlement of Beit El.
An Israeli official said it was unclear how long the move would take or how much it would cost. But he said the plan is for the homes to be removed from their current location by the July 1 deadline. It is possible the residents will need temporary housing while the buildings are transferred. He spoke on condition of anonymity because final details still need to be worked out. Netanyahu scheduled a statement later Wednesday.
Netanyahu's plan has come under fire from various quarters. Critics say the move is unnecessarily expensive and complicated. Settlers reject any move of the buildings.
About 2,000 settlers, nearly all of them observant Jews wearing knit skullcaps demonstrated outside the parliamentary building ahead of Wednesday's vote, and some activists have begun hunger strikes to protest the destruction of Ulpana. Settler leaders have promised to resist the order, though they say their opposition will be peaceful. Police said two arrests were made when young demonstrators scuffled with authorities.
"The Knesset chose destruction instead of construction. We will not be deterred. We will continue to build," said settler leader Dani Dayan. "We still haven't decided how to proceed but the struggle will now go to the field we will fight for the buildings." He refused to elaborate.
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 hard-liners who formerly dominated his coalition and raising speculation that he may soon offer new concessions to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.