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Homesh and three other northern West Bank settlements were evacuated by Israel in 2005 and an Israeli civilian presence there has been illegal ever since. On March 21, 2023, the Knesset passed a bill to revoke this ban on Israelis entering the area, removing a key barrier to the resettlement of this region. This poses a significant symbolic and practical setback for efforts to separate Israel from the Palestinians and contravenes U.S. policy. 


First presented by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2003 and approved by the Knesset in October 2004, the Disengagement Plan called for the unilateral withdrawal of Israeli military and civilians from the Gaza Strip, including the dismantlement of the 21 settlements in the territory, as well as the evacuation of four small settlements in northern Samaria: Homesh, Sa-Nur, Ganim, and Kadim. The plan required the evacuation and relocation of nearly 10,000 settlers, who received compensation as required by the Disengagement Plan Implementation Law of February 2005. 

Framed by Prime Minister Sharon as a security-oriented measure rather than a political one, the Disengagement Plan was intended to reduce Israel’s civilian and military footprint in densely populated Palestinian areas to reduce friction between the populations and lessen their security burden. It was an effort by the Israeli government to move forward with separation from the Palestinians through unilateral action amid a stalled peace process.

The Evacuated West Bank Settlements Since Disengagement

Following the 2005 disengagement, the four settlements of Homesh, Sa-Nur, Ganim, and Kadim were dismantled by Israel and placed in a closed military zone that Israeli civilians are forbidden to enter. Those who do without permission could face up to two years in prison, although this penalty has never been enforced. While the disengagement enjoyed the support of the majority of Israelis, settler leaders and right-wing members of Knesset have regularly lamented the disengagement as a setback for the settlement movement and its Greater Israel ideology. Since the disengagement, former residents of these communities and other Israeli settlers have regularly entered Homesh and Sa-Nur in violation of the law, attempting to re-establish these settlements as illegal outposts. Kadim and Ganim, meanwhile, are now located within the Jenin municipality and can only be accessed by passing through Area A via the center of the Palestinian city, rendering them practically inaccessible to Israelis.

A house in Homesh prior to its evacuation, March 2004 by Daniel Ventura, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (License linked to image)
Sa-Nur (center) prior to its evacuation, 2005 by Neria Haroeh, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 (License linked to image)

In the years since the disengagement, on several occasions, members of Knesset have proposed legislation to repeal the ban on Israelis entering the four evacuated settlements. Such initiatives never succeeded in moving forward due to the opposition of Prime Minister Netanyahu. 

The most accessible of these former settlements to Israelis, Homesh in particular has become a cause célèbre of the anti-disengagement movement and a rallying cry for those who advocate for unrestricted Jewish settlement throughout Judea and Samaria. Prominent settler leader Yossi Dagan, a former resident of Sa-Nur and now the head of the Samaria Regional Council, established the Homesh First movement to advocate for the resettlement of Homesh. A makeshift yeshiva has operated intermittently at the site of Homesh since the disengagement and has been destroyed by the Israeli military and subsequently rebuilt by settlers on several occasions.

Israelis flocking to Homesh on Yom Haatzmaut, May 8, 2008 by Daniel Ventura, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (License linked to image)

The IDF has failed to enforce the ban on Israelis entering Homesh and has allowed settlers to visit the site. Following a Palestinian terrorist attack that killed Homesh yeshiva student Yehuda Dimentman in 2021, the Israeli military has halted efforts to dismantle the outpost, a policy implemented by then-Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

The New Government: Resettlement on the Agenda 

In exchange for Otzma Yehudit joining the government, Likud promised to pass legislation repealing the Disengagement Law’s ban on Israelis entering Homesh, Sa-Nur, Ganim, and Kadim and to retroactively legalize the Homesh outpost. In December 2022, prior to the government’s swearing-in, Yuli Edelstein (Likud) and Orit Stroock (Religious Zionism) introduced a bill to lift the entry ban. On February 15, 2023, the Knesset advanced the bill in a preliminary reading. The Knesset plenum held its third and final vote on March 21, passing the bill into law.

However, the Disengagement Law is not the only legal barrier to resettling Homesh. The settlement was originally constructed in 1980 on territory seized by the IDF from the Palestinian village of Burqa. In 2013, the High Court nullified the seizure and recognized the land as under Palestinian ownership and called for its Palestinian owners to have access to it (which, given the consistent settler presence on the hilltop, has not happened). Thus, legislation permitting settlement construction on the land could be struck down by the court—an action that may nonetheless prove moot given the government’s plan to allow the Knesset to override the court

On January 2, 2023, the government informed the High Court of its intention to legalize Homesh, to which the court responded by issuing an injunction against the state, requiring it to submit an explanation within 90 days as to why it was declining to evacuate Homesh. 

The four evacuated settlements on a map of the PA’s Jenin governorate in the West Bank, based on a modified 2018 map from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

International Opposition to Homesh’s Resettlement

Following the government’s announcement that it intends to legalize Homesh, State Department Spokesman Ned Price stated that the Biden administration is opposed to “any decision to create a new settlement, to legalize outposts or allowing buildings of any kind deep in the West Bank adjacent Palestinian communities or on private Palestinian land,” and affirmed that “the Homesh outpost in the West Bank is illegal. It is illegal even under Israeli law.” 

In the wake of the final Knesset vote removing the ban on Israelis entering the evacuated territory, State Department Deputy Spokesman Vedant Patel reaffirmed the United States’ opposition to this reversal, which he called “provocative and counterproductive.” Patel emphasized that it undermines Israel’s recent commitment at a summit with the PA in Sharm el-Sheikh to pause the approval of new settlements for several months, in an effort to reduce tensions during Passover and Ramadan. Meanwhile, the administration summoned Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Mike Herzog for a meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to express concern. Jordan, the PA, the EU, and a spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres have joined the U.S. in condemning this partial rollback of the 2005 disengagement.

The Biden administration has consistently maintained that it is opposed to the retroactive legalization of West Bank outposts, including Homesh, and that such steps contravene the United States’ commitment to a two-state outcome. Israel’s step toward the resettlement of the evacuated West Bank settlements also undermines a longstanding Israeli commitment to the U.S. made by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon not to do so.

Implications of Resettling Homesh and Undoing the Northern West Bank Disengagement

Re-legalizing Homesh and other initiatives by the Israeli government to retroactively legalize West Bank outposts have drawn ire from Washington and other Israeli partners and risk more violent flare-ups and persistent tension in the northern West Bank. These efforts also undermine the legitimacy and efficacy of recent diplomatic engagement with the PA that aimed to reduce tension and prevent flare-ups heading into the confluence of Passover and Ramadan. Along with other efforts to assert Israeli control over Area C, weaken the Palestinian Authority, and erode bureaucratic and legal distinctions between the West Bank and sovereign Israel, giving legal sanction to settling this thoroughly Palestinian region of the West Bank that has not had a legal civilian presence in nearly two decades furthers the goal of annexing the entire territory and would be a significant setback for the goal of two states. 

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