If there had been a hashtag for State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s scathing report this week on state funding for West Bank outposts, it would have been #throwback Monday.
Or more simply, #yawn.
His report provided extensive details regarding the collision of government offices with the Binyamin Regional Council in building and providing services to illegal Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, known as outposts.
Shapira fingered almost every relevant government ministry – Transportation, Interior, Education, Agriculture, Defense and, of course, Construction. Such building was done on state land and on private Palestinian land, the report explained.
It spoke of some old activity dating as far back as 1999, but focused primarily on actions that occurred in the past four years, under the auspices of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
It also threw out some curve balls, like initial plans to build a settler city in the Talmon area of the Binyamin region that were first drawn up in 2014, when Barack Obama was president of the United States.
The Binyamin Regional Council responded that the report was divorced from reality. Government offices issued no response at all, nor did Netanyahu make any statements.
The report barely made the headlines in Israel and failed to garner attention in the international arena, neither from its media nor from its diplomats.
THE SITUATION could not have been more different from 13-14 years ago, when initial state comptroller’s reports unveiling information on government collusion with illegal settler building in 2004, followed by the 2005 comprehensive report on outpost construction by Talia Sasson, were shocking.
The information was published at a time when left wing groups had struggled to make their case about Israeli government collusion in illegal settler building, particularly given that the Israeli government publicly spoke against it.
Former prime minister Ariel Sharon is often described as the main proponent of the drive to build outposts precisely at a time when Israel was perceived to have halted the drive to create new settlements.
Prior to becoming prime minister, Sharon urged settlers to “take to the hilltops
” so they could create facts on the ground that would ensure the continued expansion of the settlement enterprise.
But when he was prime minister, Sharon stood at the June 4, 2003, Aqaba summit with US, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders and stated his opposition to such building.
“In regard to the unauthorized outposts, I want to reiterate that Israel is a society governed by the rule of law. Thus, we will immediately begin to remove unauthorized outposts,” Sharon said.
In response to public reports of continued building, his government took oversight steps and formulated a demolition plan.
Right-wing politicians and settlers have since worked to rebrand the issue of the outposts, which are now referred to in a number of 2018 government documents as “fledgling communities.”
Reports of government collusion in the outposts, they argued, are not evidence of illegal activity but proof of the government’s intent to authorize these communities.
In 2011 Netanyahu embarked on a policy of legalizing those communities, save for outposts building on private Palestinian land. In the last year, his government has backtracked on even that clause.
Two reports under his government’s auspices, one in 2012 and one published this year, have spoken of the need to authorize these communities.
The Knesset in 2017 passed legislation, now under adjudication before the High Court of Justice, that would retroactively legalize illegal homes on private Palestinian property, including in the outposts.
The security cabinet in 2017 created a committee to formulate a plan to authorize 70 outposts.
MK Bezalel Smotrich has submitted a private member’s bill to the Knesset calling for the authorization of those outposts and asking that they already be treated as legal communities. This includes, of course, those outposts in this week’s State Comptroller’s Report.
But while the bulk of the government and its politicians are already considering that these communities are here to stay, the state comptroller produced a report that reads like it was still the year 2003 in Israeli politics.
It was almost as though this report had been tucked away in some government vault for 14 years and then dusted off and republished.
It unequivocally stated that all such building activity in the outposts, including those whose authorization is pending, was illegal and must be stopped.
Government bodies, including the council, can’t enforce the law at the same time that it is breaking the law.
To left-wing groups, whose supporters fear Israeli annexation attempts rather than illegal building moves, the report seemed passé.
To right-wing politicians it was just one more document that proved the outposts must be immediately legalized.
In the end, the most shocking thing about the report was not the information it provided but that it was written at all.
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