Israeli body to examine legalising outposts


ISRAELI prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has ordered the setting up of a taskforce to examine ways of legalising West Bank settler outposts that have been built on land seized from Palestinians.The move follows pressure from settlers and right-wing politicians who are eager to avoid the implementation of court orders to remove a number of settler homes built on hilltop outposts.

In addition to the 121 West Bank settlements which have been approved by various Israeli governments, Jewish settlers have also established more than 100 illegal outposts, usually small communities built on hilltops populated by young militant settlers. Groups that monitor settlement construction estimate that as many as 4,000 people now live on such outposts, of which just under half have been built on privately owned Palestinian land.

The international community considers all Jewish communities in the West Bank and east Jerusalem illegal.

Last month Israeli security forces destroyed three homes at Migron, north of Jerusalem, one of the West Bank’s largest outposts. The action met with fierce resistance from settlers and was criticised by right-wing politicians. The move also led to a spate of “price tag” attacks by Jewish extremists, which targeted mosques in the West Bank and Israel and an army base. According to an Israeli high court ruling, Migron, with a population of about 250 people, must be totally evacuated by March 2012.

The Yesha council of Jewish settlers welcomed the government decision to set up a panel and expressed the hope that it would prevent the demolition of the homes of “a thousand Jewish children, mothers and fathers”.

Successive high court rulings have ruled against expropriating private Palestinian land for settlement construction, but settlers hope the new taskforce will find a legal loophole to retroactively endorse such land grabs. Settlers hope land ownership can be challenged or generous compensation provided to Palestinian landowners.

Zehava Gal-On, a member of the Knesset parliament for the left-wing opposition Meretz party said Israel’s attorney general must make it clear to the government that there is no way to legalise the takeover of Palestinian land.

“The theft of private land cannot be legalised since it constitutes a criminal offence. Netanyahu’s entire move is meant to further establish Israeli authority over the [Palestinian] territories and deepen the occupation,” Ms Gal-On said.