Israel Mulls ‘Legalizing Settler Outposts’

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has asked for a taskforce to be set up to look at ways to legalize houses in illegal settlements that are built on private Palestinian land, according to Israeli media reports.

A report published in Haaretz on Tuesday said that Netanyahu had bowed to pressure from settlers and their supporters following plans to demolish several outposts earlier this year, and had asked Yaakov Neeman, the justice minister, to find ways to legalize the buildings.

Outposts are built on hilltops overlooking Palestinian towns and villages by Israeli settlers without government approval, and in direct contravention of international law.

The sizes of these outposts vary between just a few trailers, to a collection of mobile homes. Many are built as extensions to already established settlements, which are illegal under international law.

According to Haaretz, Netanyahu and other senior ministers held meetings with the attorney general and other legal officials in February this year and decided to dismantle all outposts built on private Palestinian land, but to retroactively legalise illegal construction in settlements or outposts which had taken place on state land.

The report went on to say that the demolition of three houses in one of the illegal outposts, Migron, in September, had pushed settlers to exert heavy pressure on different members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, as well as the prime minister.

"Minister Daniel Hershkowitz has hinted that he will quit the government if no solution is found, while Yariv Levin plans this winter in the Knesset to submit a bill under which Palestinians would instead be compensated with money or alternate land for any building erected on private Palestinian land with help from government ministries," Haaretz reported.

Legalizing such outposts would mean introducing new legislation, as the Israeli High Court has ruled since 1979 that there is no legal way to construct settlement houses on private Palestinian land.

"The settlers, however, claim that there are solutions: in some cases, the land’s ownership can be challenged; in others, the owner could be compensated generously; and in others still, the owners could be declared absentees, enabling their land to be used, as is the case vis-a-vis land inside Israel," said Haaretz.

Yet different government officials have said legalizing certain outposts can only happen through a cabinet decision, which the government is trying to avoid due to the consequences this may have.

Instead, the government will try to claim the outposts as extensions of already established settlements.

As of 2009, approximately 500,000 Israelis were living in 121 settlements within the occupied West Bank and illegally occupied East Jerusalem. Reports state there are over 100 illegal outposts within the West Bank.
 
(Al Jazeera and Agencies)

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