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Israel: Officials pledge not to evacuate Homesh outpost to prevent coalition collapse

Government's move comes despite Supreme Court decision backing removal of the settlers from the illegal outpost
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that the state must provide an update within two months on the state of the evacuation of the Homesh outpost (AFP)
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that the state must provide an update within two months on the state of the evacuation of the Homesh outpost (AFP)

Officials in Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government have pledged that illegal settlers in Homesh, in the occupied West Bank, will not be evacuated in the coming months in a bid to prevent a potential collapse of the coalition, according to Israeli media.

The promise comes despite a Supreme Court decision which ruled in favour of evacuating the settlers from the outpost near the city of Nablus.

The move is part of a bid to prevent Knesset members, especially from Bennett's own Yamina Party, from leaving the coalition.

Nir Orbach, a Knesset member of the Yamina party, has held a series of talks with Bennett and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, in which he has told them the coalition has no chance of surviving in the long term.

Orbach is seen as a potential defector who could bring down the government, which last week failed to pass a controversial emergency law that would bring settlers under civil law, instead of the military orders which govern Palestinians in the West Bank.

The 52-year-old has also been in talks with the opposition Likud party, which has promised him a ministerial position in any coalition put together by Likud if he joined their ranks.

Orbach is said to be examining the possibility of supporting the Knesset dissolution law in a preliminary reading, and has given Bennett an ultimatum lasting several days to change the composition of his government.

"We have formed a government to focus on civilian issues, but we are getting a headbutt from Palestinian nationalism," Orbach was quoted as saying, calling on Bennett to "align with rebels or form a right-wing government with Netanyahu".

Homesh was first evacuated in 2005 as part of an Israeli disengagement plan that pulled forces and settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Currently, settlers visit the area and operate the Homesh yeshiva, which serves as a de facto outpost.

'The government is harassing the yeshiva'

Shaked has been adamant since May that settlers living in Homesh will not be evacuated.

"We will do everything so that Homesh is not evacuated," the interior minister said in May.

"The continued existence of the yeshiva there is symbolic and significant."

"This yeshiva has been evacuated many times. This should stop and the yeshiva students should be allowed to study."

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that the state must provide an update within two months on the state of the evacuation of the Homesh outpost.

“We have noted the statement of the respondents that ‘[Homesh] will be evacuated’ and that enforcement operations will continue, as specified in their court filing,” the three justices on the panel wrote in a brief ruling.

The justices said they expected an update from the state within two months and “further action on the matter” will be determined accordingly.

Israeli media said executing the Supreme Court ruling in the next two months would shake Bennett's government and bring about its collapse.

According to Kan, Israel's public broadcasting corporation, even in the case of a government dissolution, the coalition's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid would become interim prime minister, allowing him to abide by the Supreme Court's rule to evacuate Homesh before another round of elections.

Settlers at the Homesh outpost have criticised the Bennett government for letting them down and not providing them with public transport to their yeshiva.

"The government is harassing the yeshiva every day, Homesh is under siege, the students are forced to come to the yeshiva on foot and on unpaved roads," the settlers said in a statement, according to Israel's Channel 7. "Homesh has never been harassed like this."