(photo credit: AP [file])
There is discussion of a plan to "legalize" some unauthorized settlement outposts if they fall inside settlement blocs Israel ultimately plans to keep, and if the outposts themselves meet certain criteria, senior Israeli officials told The Jerusalem Post.
According to the officials, these criteria include that the outposts serve a clear security need, such as guarding an access road to the outpost's mother settlement; that they were built on state land and not private Arab property, that they fall within the mother settlement's master plan and are in areas which Israel intends to keep.
The "outpost plan" was first brought to the Defense Ministry by the IDF in an attempt to appease the settlers and to strengthen the official settler leadership, which has been weakened by the recent razing of nine illegal homes at the Amona outpost and the failure to stop the disengagement last summer from the Gaza Strip. The plan entailed the evacuation of close to 15 illegal outposts but called for the approval of another 10.
The officials, who asked not to be identified, said settlement leaders had for some time been talking about a plan whereby they would voluntarily leave many of the more than 100 outposts if others would then become "authorized."
While the officials claimed there was an ongoing dialogue between the settler leadership and Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the issue, Emily Amrusi, spokeswoman for the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, denied there were any contacts.
"We have tried to meet with him but he has repeatedly refused," Amrusi said. "We have absolutely no contact with him."
The officials said that only outposts in areas that Israel has made clear would remain in its hands would be considered. According to these criteria, therefore, the unauthorized outpost of Amona would not have fallen into this category.
Outposts that are today considered illegal which could fall under the plan include Nof Kana and Alonei Shilo near the settlement of Karnei Shomron, which according to Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz would remain part of Israel under a withdrawal from the West Bank. Other outposts near Ofra and Beit El could also be approved, depending on the future of their mother settlements.
"There is no sense or logic in legalizing or authorizing outposts near settlements that themselves are slated to be relocated," one official said.
The official said he did not know how many of the 24 unauthorized settlements set up since March 2001, which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pledged to the US that he would dismantle, would fit the necessary criteria, but military officials said there could be up to 10 that would be in line for approval.
Diplomatic officials said no consultations on this matter had been held with the US. The formal US position is that the outposts set up after Sharon formed his first government must be dismantled as stipulated under the road map. The assumption, however, is that there would be room to talk to the administration about this if some of the 81 other outposts that were set up before March 2001 and are not in areas considered major settlement blocs were to be dismantled.
Following the elections next week, Amrusi said, the settler council planned to present its own outpost plan to the government to try and reach a compromise regarding the fate of the illegal outposts.
The plan, she said, would include the transfer of several outposts to other settlements and the legalization of others and their merger with nearby settlements.
"We are ready to open negotiations with the government," Amrusi said, "but only once we know that there is someone to talk to on the other side who is willing to compromise with us."