Despite a 2002 road map commitment and years of pledges by successive prime ministers including Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel has no intention in the foreseeable future of dismantling any of 23 unauthorized West Bank outposts built after March 2001, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
In part, this is because the promise to dismantle the outposts was made in the framework of wider understandings with the Bush administration that provided for continued home-building at settlements Israel is likely to retain under a permanent accord with the Palestinians. Since, under the Obama administration, those wider understandings gave way to a demand, accepted by Netanyahu in November, for a moratorium on all new home-building throughout the settlements, the Post was told by one senior official, Israel no longer regards itself as having to go through with the outpost demolitions on the basis of that pledge to the US.
The official’s comments confirm a remark made to the Post
during an Independence Day interview with Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon
. Ya’alon recalled that Netanyahu, soon after becoming prime minister, reiterated the promise previously made by prime ministers Sharon and Olmert to demolish the 23 hilltop communities, which are peppered all over the West Bank.
"He [Netanyahu] said we accept our commitment regarding dismantling 23 outposts that were defined by the Sharon government as illegal,” said Ya’alon.
But that changed, Ya’alon said, after a dispute broke out with the Obama administration regarding the significance and validity of Sharon’s understandings with the Bush administration about settlement growth.
“He [Netanyahu] accepted that [commitment to demolish the outposts], until it became clear that the US administration does not accept the commitments of the previous administrations.”
A second official, responding to the Ya’alon comment, said the minister
was “expressing his own opinion,” but did not deny that the pledge to
dismantle the outposts had been superseded in the wake of the wider
dispute on settlement growth.
Likud Minister Yuli Edelstein added on Tuesday that the issue of which
– if any – outposts would be razed would now be determined on the
basis of the legal status of the land in each specific case, and the
completion of all the necessary legal procedures, not on the basis of
Israel’s pledge to the US.
Added Edelstein, the minister of information and Diaspora affairs:
“There were all kinds of understandings that the other side [the US] no
longer views as valuable. As a result we do not have to blindly fulfill
everything. There are legal procedures in this country and we have to
A third government official explained that Israel had three choices
regarding the outposts: dismantle them right away, legalize them
retroactively, or, when challenged by left-wing groups over the issue
in petitions to the High Court of Justice, “buy time” by taking steps
to assess their status. It is that third course that the state has been
following when challenged in the courts, the official said.
The 23 outposts were all established during the Sharon prime
ministership – hence his willingness, in discussions with the US, to
offer the pledge to take them down. Only the status of the largest of
the 23, Migron, home to 46 families in the Binyamin region, has been
determined; because it is built on private Palestinian land, it is to
be relocated to the nearby Adam settlement.
The status of some of the 80 other outposts, which were set up in the
1990s, is being challenged in the courts by left-wing groups as well.
Apart from the road map commitment regarding the 23, which are home to
anywhere from one to a few dozen families, Netanyahu and his
predecessors spoke of an imperative to dismantle them in order to honor
the rule of law. Government officials this week acknowledged the
continued importance of that imperative, but indicated that there were
also issues of timing and sensitivity.
Given that there is currently no substantive political process with the
Palestinians, and given the likely internal friction with the settler
community that an effort to dismantle the outposts would provoke, one
official said, “it doesn’t make a lot of sense” to focus on the issue
now. Among other considerations, he added, such a move would be
regarded as a unilateral concession to the Palestinians.
Officials said they could recall no cabinet discussion on the issue of the outposts being held in the past six to eight months.
Some sources suggested that the government would much rather deal with
the entire issue of unauthorized outposts within the context of
final-status negotiations. Some work has already been done, the Post
has been told, with regard to establishing which of the 100 or so
outposts are not built on private Palestinian land, and thus might
ultimately be legalized retroactively.
Earlier this week, indeed, the state told the High Court that it was
seeking to establish the status of the land on which the Derech Ha’avot
outpost, in the Gush Etzion region, is built. It told the court that,
if possible, it would look to legalize the 35 homes built there.
Last October, the Defense Ministry drew up a memo that advised
deferring enforcement of evacuation orders against unauthorized
outposts when cases against them were brought before the High Court.
“We should advise the court that because of diplomatic constraints and
negotiations with the Americans, we are asking not to evacuate outposts
at this time,” the document stated.
Since the 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction was
imposed on November 26, the state has told the court in several cases
that removal of these unauthorized communities was not a priority at
this time because all its efforts have gone into enforcing the freeze.
The state went further this week in the case of Derech Ha’avot, by
telling the High Court that it wanted to re-evaluate the legal status
of land ownership there. The court was told that if the land belongs to
the state and not to private Palestinians, then the Defense Ministry
could look to authorize the construction.
Were Derech Ha’avot to be legalized, Israel would either be creating a
new settlement or expanding the boundaries of the neighboring Elazar
settlement to encompass it – in either case, departing from other
commitments to the US.
Similarly, if a decision is taken to legalize the Givat Hayovel
outpost, where the homes in which the widows of IDF majors Roi Klein
and Eliraz Peretz are located, this would either represent the
establishment of a new settlement or the expansion of neighboring Eli.
Neither Derech Ha’avot nor Givat Hayovel is among the 23 Sharon-era
outposts. Derech Ha’avot was established in February 2001, a month
before Sharon took office, and Givat Hayovel in 1998.