- Many homes of Israeli settlers in a West Bank outpost are on private Palestinian land
- The Israeli government said last year the homes would be demolished by May 1
- Government now requests a three-month delay in the demolition
- Critic calls the request "an announcement of war ... against the rule of law"
The Israeli government asked the country's high court Friday for a delay in the scheduled demolition of an unauthorized West Bank settlement outpost.
Many of the homes built by Jewish settlers in a neighborhood of the Beit El outpost are located on private Palestinian land. Last year the Israeli government told the court the homes would taken down by May 1.
The right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the court for a three-month delay in carrying out the demolitions so a government committee can reassess the current policy of demolishing settler homes built on private Palestinian land.
In the request the government argued, "The evacuation of the buildings could carry social, political and operational ramifications for construction in Beit El and other settlements."
An official in Israel's Justice Ministry who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter said the case of Beit El differed from other illegal settler outposts because it was home to dozens of families that would lose their homes if the demolition went ahead. Many of these houses have existed since the 1980s. Illegal outposts are usually much smaller and not so well established.
Previous Israeli governments have pledged to demolish the unauthorized settler outposts in the West Bank, but only a handful have been removed.
Michael Sfard, an attorney for Yesh Din, an Israeli nongovernmental organization that advocates for Palestinian rights, said the request was "an announcement of war by the Israeli government against the rule of law."
"They said clearly that they have reached a decision not to evacuate illegal construction on private Palestinian property," Sfard said. "They ask for 90 days to change the policy. What kind of legal option is there when private property is taken other than restoring the possession of the property to its rightful owner?"
The request comes just days after the Israeli government said it had decided to legalize the status of three other settlements that were built in the West Bank during the 1990s.
The move to authorize the settlements of Sansana, Rechelim and Bruchin was based on "decisions by previous governments," Netanyahu's office said in a short statement issued earlier this week.
The announcement was condemned by the Palestinians and brought public criticism from both the European Union and the United States.
The issue of settlements and their continued growth is a key obstacle in the path of reviving the moribund peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.