In lieu of annexation, settlers pressure PM to legalize outposts

According to the Left-wing activist group Peace Now, some 42 West Bank outposts have been built in the last eight years, 28 of which were built during US President Donald Trump’s administration.

Border Police officers at outpost near Yitzhar, August 12, 2020 (photo credit: POLICE SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Border Police officers at outpost near Yitzhar, August 12, 2020
Settlers are pressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to authorize outposts, or at the very least, to allow their de facto legalization, in lieu of the West Bank annexation promise that has been suspended.
It’s the latest phase in a long tale of the fledgling Jewish communities in the West Bank, some of which are already decades old, but have yet to be legalized.
“The Israeli government must regulate these young communities as soon as possible,” Yesha Council head David Elhayani said on Sunday.
Such authorization, he said, would allow the communities to be hooked up to utilities such as water, electricity and the internet as well as provide funding for their security.
The outposts phenomenon began in the mid-1990s, at the time of the Oslo Accords, when there was an understanding that Israel would refrain from authorizing new settlements. But settlers, with the tacit support of government departments and the IDF, continued to build new hilltop communities, that became known as outposts.
The George W. Bush administration secured a pledge from then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to demolish the outposts, but he never made good on that promise, although during his tenure they were branded as illegal by the 2005 Talia Sasson report that Sharon commissioned.
Sasson counted some 100 outposts and described the collusion of government departments in their illegal construction and a lull in outpost construction followed.
Settlers and right-wing politicians worked to re-brand the outposts, and instead of illegal entities, they were referred to as communities awaiting authorization. The settlers argued that far from being illegal acts, the tacit support of government and the IDF should be viewed as initial nods towards authorization.
In 2012, that argument received a boost through a government decision to transform three outposts into legal settlements; Bruchin, Rechilin and Sansana. That same year, a government commission headed by former Supreme Court Justice Edmund Levy, recommended legalizing all the outposts and after it, settlers began once again to build outposts.
According to the Left-wing activist group Peace Now, some 42 West Bank outposts have been built in the last eight years, 28 of which were built during US President Donald Trump’s administration.
Netanyahu also approved the authorization of outposts as neighborhoods of settlements, a move that allowed for their legalization despite the diplomatic uproar that might have followed the approval of so many settlements. Some 16 outposts were legalized this way, and two others were given approval as agricultural farms in 2018: Givat Eitam and Shaharit.
In 2018, the government took the principled position of transforming the Gilad Farm outpost into a settlement, a move that has not yet been completed, and last year, it began the process of transforming the Jordan Valley outpost of Mevo’ot Yericho into a settlement.
In total, according to Peace Now, 21 outposts have been legalized and nine are in the process of approval.
Right-wing politicians and settlers have never liked the piecemeal style of addressing the issue, because technically, the communities retain an illegal status.
This makes it problematic for them to receive necessary services, including funds for security to protect them from possible attacks by Palestinians. Their unauthorized status, particularly those built on private Palestinian land, also makes them vulnerable to High Court of Justice petitions by Left-wing NGOs.
Under Netanyahu’s watch, the IDF evacuated the Migron and Amona outposts under orders from the HCJ. Homes were also demolished on orders of the HCJ in the outposts of the Ulpana and Netiv Ha’avot. This summer, the HCJ ordered the razing of homes in the Kerem Reim outpost.
It’s a reminder to settlers and the Right of the tenuous status of these communities and the legislative attempts to resolve the issues en masse that have failed in the past. The closest the Right came, was in May 2017 when the security cabinet formed a committee headed by veteran settler leader Pinhas Wallerstein to regulate the outposts.
But his efforts were stymied at every turn and he left his position this summer, having categorized the path to the legalization of some 70 outposts, but without achieving tangible results.
At issue, in part, was the prolonged election cycle, that lasted from December 2018 and until a government was formed in May. On top of that, there was the promised hope of West Bank annexation, a move that settlers thought would allow for a comprehensive resolution to the issue.
But now that annexation has been suspended, the attention of the Right has once more turned to the outposts. Of particular concern is not just the fear of further court-ordered demolitions or the absence of utilities, but the possibility that the outposts might be outside the contours of Trump’s annexation map.
The Right is, therefore, pressuring Netanyahu to once more become active on this issue, particularly through a government or security cabinet decision to authorize the communities.
They see this as necessary compensation for his failure to fulfill his annexation pledge, and the Trump administration’s supportive policy toward Israeli rights in Judea and Samaria creates a climate that makes such a move possible.
The Knesset Land of Israel Caucus is also preparing legislation to support authorization of the outposts.
Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman have both promised that no settlers would be uprooted from their homes and Yesha Council CEO Yigal Dilmoni said that this pledge can’t just be about the settlements, it must also be applied to the outposts.