The United States on Monday said it opposed any plan to transform unauthorized outposts into legal settlements.
“We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalize outposts,” a US State Department spokesman, Patrick Ventrell told reporters in Washington.
He spoke on the same day that the Israeli government published a report by a three member legal panel, known as the outpost committee, which called for the legalization of those fledgling West Bank Jewish communities.
Its publication comes on the eve of US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns’ trip to Israel this week along with a delegation that will hold a strategic dialogue with Israel.
Burns is expected to meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, as part of an ongoing effort to rekindle the frozen peace talks. His trip will be followed by a visit from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The Palestinian Authority, which on Monday rejected the outpost report, has insisted that it won’t hold direct negotiations with Israel until it halts settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem.
Israel has insisted that it has a right to build both in West Bank settlements and in east Jerusalem.
But until this year it has held to international pledges not to create new settlements. In April it transformed three outposts — Bruhin, Rehalim and Sansana — into settlements. At the time it argued that it was not creating new settlements but rather executing decisions by past governments.
The outpost report did not overly examine Israel’s diplomatic pledges, but rather examined the legal arguments internationally and domestically with respect to settlement activity.
It concluded that since Israel’s activity in the West Bank did not meet the international legal standards of occupation, there was no legal barrier to Israeli settlement activity.
In light of this, the report said, Israel could build new settlements in the West Bank and it urged it to transform the outposts into such settlements, unless there were private property issues involved.
It also suggested that Israel create a new court to handle such property disputes.
Its conclusions flew in the face of a 2005 report by attorney Talia Sasson commissioned by former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Sasson compiled a list of 105 unauthorized outposts built between 1991 and 2005, arguing they had been illegally constructed and should be taken down.
Netanyahu on Monday praised the report penned by former Supreme Court justice Edmond Levy, former Foreign Ministry legal adviser Alan Baker and former deputy president of the Tel Aviv District Court Tehiya Shapira. It has already been dubbed the “Levy Report.”
“In my opinion, this report is important because it deals with the legalization and the legitimization of the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria on the basis of facts, a variety of facts and arguments that should be seriously considered,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu added that the Ministerial Committee on Settlements would debate and decide the matter. The committee received a copy of the report on Sunday. It has the full authority to implement the report.