The Defense Ministry has legalized the Givat Salit outpost by making it part of the nearby Mehola settlement, according to Jordan Valley Regional Council head David Lahiani.

He told The Jerusalem Post that the outpost had been authorized several months ago.

Peace Now made public the authorization on Monday after it obtained a letter from the World Zionist Organization’s (WZO) Settlement Division referencing the authorization.

Givat Salit is at least the fifth outpost which has been authorized since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took office in March 2009. Reports of its authorization began to circulate in the Israeli media as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Israel on a one-day visit.

In a statement to the press, Peace Now charged that the “government wished to avoid issuing an official decision legalizing the outpost because it could have led to international criticism.” The US has urged Israel to halt settlement activity and has opposed legalizing the outposts.

Givat Salit, which was built in September 2001, is one of 24 outposts constructed after March 2001, all of which Israel has promised the US it would remove. Former prime minister Ariel Sharon was the first to make that pledge, and his successor Ehud Olmert repeated it. Netanyahu made the same promise on his first trip to Washington in 2009.

But following the 10- month moratorium Israel placed on new settlement construction – which ended in September 2010 – it unofficially said that it no longer felt bound by that pledge.

Givat Salit is listed as one of 105 West Bank outposts in a 2005 report on the illegal communities that Talia Sasson wrote for the government.

According to Sasson, the outpost was built on state land in the Jordan Valley with NIS 717,000 from the Construction and Housing Ministry. It was located 300 meters away from Mehola and lacked authorization from the government or the Defense Ministry. Netanyahu’s government has looked to legalize outposts on state land such as Givat Salit and to remove those built on private Palestinian property.

A new report on West Bank outposts published last week by a three-person legal team – headed by former Supreme Court judge Edmond Levy – called for the legalization of such outposts. The report said that Israel has a right under international and domestic law to build settler homes in the West Bank.

But last week, Patrick Ventreli, a US State Department spokesman, told reporters in Washington that the US “opposes any effort to legalize outposts.” The Defense Ministry said it was not able to comment on the matter by press time.

Peace Now gave the Post a WZO letter dated July 2 that sought authorization to hire an architect for Givat Salit plans, which have been frozen since 2004 as the result of changes to the boundaries of a nearby road. The document said that it wanted to rehire the same architect now that the Defense Ministry had decided to advance plans for Givat Salit.

Lahiani explained that the Defense Ministry had agreed to authorize the outpost by including it within the boundaries of Mehola, and was now working on a zoning plan. There are 14 families that live there.

Lahiani said that the legalization was meaningful because the outpost was named for Salit Sheetrit, who was killed in September 2001 at age 28, after a Palestinian terrorist sprayed at least 20 bullets into her car as she drove near Mehola.

After more than a decade, Lahiani added, “It is about time that the outpost was legalized.”

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