Israel PM Faces Heat over Plans to Move Neighborhood

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is embroiled in a conflict that some say could potentially affect the stability of his newly formed majority coalition.

Likud faction chairman MK Zeev Elkin warned the plan could have far-reaching implications for Netanyahu's coalition, Israel Radio reported.

"This will be a traumatic event and it will have severe ramifications in the political arena," Elkin said. "Netanyahu's decision is a serious mistake that violates his promises to those who voted for the nationalist faction."

In what's becoming one of his most controversial proposals to date, Netanyahu presented a plan to relocate five apartment buildings in the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El, a community in the Binyamin Regional Council established in 1977, where the Bible says the patriarch Jacob dreamt of angels ascending and descending from heaven (Gen. 28).

The High Court ruled the five buildings, which house 30 families, were constructed on privately owned Palestinian land and must be evacuated by July 1. The court has also called for the evacuation of Migron, Givat Assaf, and Amona.

Netanyahu proposed moving the buildings several hundred yards to state-owned land designated a military zone within Beit El. His two-phase plan, which he says will strengthen the settlement movement, involves relocating the structures and building 10 new housing units for each relocated home.

The prime minister's plan met with fierce opposition from several coalition partners, including MKs Ya'akov Katz (National Union), Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi), Uri Ariel (Yisrael Beitenu) and Elkin.

On Wednesday, MKs Katz and Orlev plan to present bills for a preliminary reading that would legalize "unauthorized" Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

Last week, Netanyahu tried unsuccessfully to convince them to hold off presenting the bills for two weeks.

"The destruction of houses in Ulpana can lead to the destruction of thousands of other homes in Judea and Samaria, and this is something the public cannot withstand," YNet news quoted Katz, who joined a hunger strike Sunday with others opposing the plan.

"We need to do everything we can to help the prime minister understand he cannot do this," Binyamin Regional Concil Head Avi Ro'eh said Sunday outside a large protest tent erected near the High Court and Foreign Ministry, The Jerusalem Post reported.

"We cannot afford to tire even if the sword is at our throat, we will do everything that we need to do," he said.

Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Yisrael Aumann, who visited the protest tent Sunday, said the evacuation plan not only endangers residents of Judea and Samaria, "but the entire country."

"It jeopardizes our entire presence here," said Aumann, who received the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize in economics.

Residents of Beit El left Monday on a two-day march to Jerusalem.

"We are people, not puppets," Ulpana resident Yoel Fatal told YNet. "Passing the settlement regulation bill is the only possible solution."

Over the weekend, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein met with various senior officials to evaluate the prime minister's proposal.  

Supporters of the relocation plan include Defense Minister Ehud Barak, newly appointed Deputy Premier MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima), Labor Party chairwoman and opposition leader MK Shelly Yachimovich and ultra-left-wing Meretz Party chairwoman MK Zahava Gal-On.

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