Israel's High Court justices sharply criticized the government on Sunday for not fulfilling its legal commitment to demolish a West Bank settlement.
During a hearing regarding the state's request to reconsider the demolition of illegally-built structures in the Ulpana neighborhood, which is part of the West Bank settlement of Beit El, Justice Uzi Fogelman said that "when the state claims it will do something, we do not imagine that it will not be done. There is respect between the branches."
The state asked the court last Friday to reconsider its ruling to evacuate and tear down five structures in Ulpana, which had been built on private Palestinian land. The state cited the difficult ramifications the move is likely to have for Beit El residents.
The state had previously pledged in court to implement the demolition orders for the neighborhood buildings, but last month it asked for 90 days to reevaluate its policy on enforcing demolition orders for illegal buildings in the West Bank, as it combines strategic, public and operative considerations.
"The question is whether there is a precedent for opening a case and changing policy after a ruling has been given," Justice Fogelman said. "This means that in hundreds of cases in the High Court, the state will claim its policies have changed. This has wide implications."
Fogelman emphasized that the state has agreed to evacuate the buildings, "not just as a voluntary commitment to get something off the agenda. This implies a major commitment."
The state's request was backed by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and senior officials from the State Prosecutors' Office. However, senior jurists slammed Weinstein's support of the move.
Justice Salim Joubran also voiced criticism on Sunday, saying that he finds it hard to accept the state's claims. "The unusual requests have become routine. This is legally and publicly unhealthy." He wondered: "What options will there be in 60 days? A ruling has been handed down."
Attorney Michael Sfard, who submitted the petition for the Palestinian landowners with the human rights group Yesh Din, said in the hearing that "the State Prosecutor's Office is not representing the public interest in this case, but rather political interests." On Thursday, Sfard said that the state's request was tantamount to contempt of court.