JERUSALEM Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday urged settlers set for eviction from an outpost in the occupied West Bank next week to leave quietly without resisting security forces.
Netanyahu has backed a bill, condemned by Western powers and the United Nations, that would legalise Israeli settlement homes built on privately owned Palestinian land. But Amona is not included in the measure and Netanyahu and fellow right-wing political leaders have conceded that it must be evacuated.
In the five decades since Israel captured the West Bank, it has built about 120 formal settlements in the territory. Most of the world deems them illegal and an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians, who aim to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The 330 settlers of Amona, the largest Israeli outpost in the territory that Palestinians seek as part of a future state, have rejected all government offers, and from fellow settlers, to re-house them elsewhere in the West Bank.
They and their supporters have vowed to resist when police and troops come to evict them.
"I call on everybody to act responsibly, under no circumstances harm soldiers and security forces. These are our sons...who are dear to us all. They protect us. There is no place for violence," Netanyahu said in a statement.
He has sought to avoid confrontation with the Amona settlers over the Israeli Supreme Court's order to evacuate the outpost by Dec. 25. The court ruled that Amona was built on privately-owned Palestinian land which must be returned to its owners.
The bill on settlement homes requires two more votes in parliament to become law and could ultimately be overturned by the Supreme Court, since rights groups are widely expected to challenge the effective expropriation of private property.
"We have devoted days and nights, had many discussions, we have proposed innovative solutions, out-of-the-box solutions but to my regret, our proposals have not been accepted (by the legal authorities)," Netanyahu said.
Critics in Israel and abroad fear that Netanyahu's manoeuvres aimed at appeasing rightist, pro-settler political partners could have grave consequences internationally.
Preliminary approval of the bill granted by parliament last week has alarmed the United States, European Union and United Nations, raising the possibility of some sort of U.N. resolution before President Barack Obama leaves office in January.
Israeli officials are also concerned that the bill could provide grounds for prosecution by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Palestinians condemned the measure as a land grab in territory they seek for a state.
But U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has emboldened the Israeli far right as he has signalled a more accepting U.S. stance on settlements and called for the U.S. Embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would break longstanding U.S. foreign policy and anger the Muslim world.
As well as the main settlements that Israel fully supports, settlers have created over 100 outposts - many on hilltops across the West Bank, often with tacit government support.
Under the new bill, 55 of the outposts will have official sanction, according to Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now. Compensation would be offered to Palestinian landowners.
(Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Mark Heinrich)