The newly established settlement of Amichai in the West Bank. (Courtesy).
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman intends to roll out a plan in a few weeks to authorize all outposts on the West Bank, thereby turning them into legal communities or neighborhoods of existing settlements.
His plan is based on information from a 200-page document published Friday, dubbed the “Zandberg Report,” authored by the Regulations Committee for Settlements in Judea and Samara headed by Jerusalem District Court Judge Haya Zandberg.
“Strengthening settlements in Judea and Samaria is first and foremost in Israel’s security interest,” Liberman said. “We will act responsibly and creatively and within a few weeks we’ll present a comprehensive and systematic plan of action to regularize [legalize] the outposts in Judea and Samaria.”
There are some 100 illegal outposts on the West Bank, the bulk of them built from 1995 to 2005.
The left-wing group Peace Now warned: “This is a serious and dangerous report, which recommends that Israel blatantly violate international law and trample on the protected needs and rights of the Palestinian population.”
It added that implementation of the plan would create a de facto system of apartheid.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked called on the government to implement the report.
The document is the latest attempt by settler leaders, right-wing politicians and judicial experts to normalize settlement building in Area C of the West Bank by divorcing it from existing legal constraints.
Some of the proposals would also allow for the creation of new settlements, a move that the government, in response to international pressure, has mostly refrained from for more than two decades. The report presents a new legal understanding of existing regulations governing Jewish building in Judea and Samaria. It recommends a number of concrete actions that can be taken to avoid the demolition of outposts and thousands of illegal settler homes.
The focus is on legalizing those homes, including by offering more protection to settler property and less protection to private Palestinian property.
At present, it is estimated that there are well over 4,000 illegal settler homes, the bulk of which are actually located in legalized settlements, with the remainder being in the outposts.
Many of those homes are on private Palestinian property with no legal option for authorization.
In some cases the problem is not the homes, which are legal and on state land, but the absence of an access route.
The Zandberg Report speaks of needing to use eminent domain to allow for the building of access routes through private Palestinian property to existing Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
It calls for new settlements to be created where there is existing building that is not contiguous to the main part of a settlement.
The report also took issue with the Defense Ministry’s blue-line team that has examined, and in some cases used new technology to reexamine, the property status of existing settlements.
The blue-line team has done so with an eye to ensuring that settler homes are built on state-owned land and not on private Palestinian land. It is also tasked with ensuring that land set aside for future building projects are on state land.
However, based on new information, the team has discovered homes that were believed to have been built on state land but were actually constructed on private Palestinian property. This new information transformed legal homes into illegal ones.
The Zandberg Report is the third in a series of reports on West Bank outposts and illegal settler building. The Talia Sasson Report in 2005 argued that illegal settler building was criminal activity that should result in the buildings being demolished. In a 180-degree turnaround, the Levy Report in 2012 sought solutions for the problem of illegal homes, while this latest report looks to both authorize and expand construction.
The international community routinely calls for Israel to freeze such activity, and the Palestinians have argued that such building is a stumbling block to peace. The Obama administration had a no-tolerance policy for any Jewish building over pre-1967 lines.
The Trump administration has not leaned as heavily on Israel with regard to settlement construction. Right-wing politicians have argued that such building can now be accelerated.
They have also pushed for Israel to annex all the settlements in Area C of the West Bank.
The report comes as US President Donald Trump is reportedly close to unveiling a new peace plan.