Efforts to delegitimize Israeli settlements and their "hilltop" or "outpost" extensions argue against them on ideological grounds: that Jews should not live over the Green Line; and on legal grounds: that they may not have received full government approval. There are those who believe that Jews who live in Judea and Samaria are "obstacles to peace," "occupy Palestinian land," and are "messianic fanatics." First off, the legal rights of Jews to live in these areas should be more objectively evaluated. In March, attorney Talia Sasson issued a government report - ignoring the thousands of illegal Arab buildings - which found that ministries and other public bodies had worked together to fund illegal outposts. She said that 15 were built on private Palestinian land. But most of the hundred or so outposts in question are connected to large established communities. In total, they comprise less than 2,000 people, mostly young Orthodox families. Writing in The Jerusalem Report (December 12) Matti Friedman summarizes: "To get authorization, a settlement must be approved by a ministerial committee, have a valid zoning plan, be on land owned by the state, and have a municipal boundary set by the regional army commander. A settlement that doesn't meet all four of these conditions is illegal." Those criteria seem clear enough. The problem is, as Friedman notes, "they were built not by the settlers alone but also by agencies of the state, with approval from the highest levels of government." That would make them legal, in my view. Legal status, however, in light of what happened to 25 legal communities in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria, appears to be irrelevant. A Jerusalem Post editorial (December 8) criticized government hesitancy to implement the Sasson Report. If the sites are illegal and Sharon and/or his representatives have promised to dismantle them, what's the problem? Why the delay? Simple. To my knowledge, the government has not made any decisions. The appropriate ministerial committees have not met, the Knesset has passed no law or recommendation, and the courts have not even heard requests for their opinion. Second, authorization and approval were implicit when government ministries and public institutions, including the IDF, were involved. Most outposts are within the boundaries established for their nearby communities. With few exceptions, most are built on state, purchased, or unclaimed lands. Critics of settlements and outposts rely on a combination of Jordanian laws and Israeli procedures which are unclear and open to interpretation regarding their implementation. Critics argue that Israel is in violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention by maintaining a presence in the West Bank. But that is an issue for the courts to decide. For now, sovereignty in Judea and Samaria resides with the military commander; Jews were allowed to build; and the IDF provides them with security. Does that not make the Jewish presence "legal?" In reality this is not a legal issue, it goes beyond strict legal definitions and bears upon the continued existence of the state: Where do Jews have the right to live and what and who gives them that right? Will giving up outposts ensure that the larger communities which remain are more secure? Will even the three largest settlement blocs, and areas of Jerusalem settled after 1967 survive? Surrendering to American Quartet demands may trump historic, legal arguments, but appeasement never brings peace. Political expediency and concessions may buy Israel a little more time, but to what end? Destroying Jewish communities sends a clear message: We don't belong here. In principle, therefore, there is no difference between outposts and settlements - or between them and the rest of Israel. Denying the right of Jews to live in "outposts" threatens the moral and ideological basis for all settlement in the entire Land of Israel. Every society must enforce the rule of law, but there is an even more important concern: justice. The writer, a former assistant professor of history is a journalist living in Jerusalem.