Netanyahu OKs panel to examine legalizing settler homes

B’Tselem says government would be an "accomplice in land theft" if it authorizes houses on privately owned Palestinian land.

Prime Minister Netanyahu explaining somthing_311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Netanyahu explaining somthing_311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave a nod in the direction of right-wing politicians, including many members of his party, when he agreed on Tuesday to create a committee to examine the legal status of settler homes on privately owned Palestinian land.
News that he might back away from his strict policy that all such structures be removed was bitterly attacked by the Left and hailed as a victory by the Right. The latter has long lobbied hard for the government to move toward legalizing the outposts.
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Right-wing politicians are concerned about a number of pending demolitions of unauthorized settler homes, including at the Migron and Givat Assaf outposts.
B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories said such a move would make the government an “accomplice in land theft.”
Minister of Culture and Sports Limor Livnat, who lobbied for the committee at Sunday’s Likud ministerial meeting, said, “This is a brave and important decision.”
The move comes during an intense effort by the Middle East Quartet to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. The Palestinians has said they will not talk with Israel until it ceases settlement activity.
Netanyahu has been vague with respect to the new committee’s mandate. In its official statements to the media, his office did not mention the issue of private Palestinian land.
Instead it said the prime minister “decided to create a committee that would examine the policy tools and principles for action in Judea and Samaria. The committee will formulate recommendations for action on the issues, which among other things have been brought up in different petitions to the High Court of Justice.”
But sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said that the committee was expected to look at the status of privately owned Palestinian land.
The source said the government had not changed its policy with respect to settler homes on private Palestinian property, but rather it wanted to make absolutely sure that the property had been properly classified.
The international community has long expected Israel to remove the 100 West Bank outposts, many of which were started by settlers who believed that they could eventually be legalized.
Under the 2002 road map, the government is expected to remove some 24 outposts constructed after former prime minister Ariel Sharon took office in March 2001.
Then prime minister Ehud Olmert spoke of removing the outposts. But since Netanyahu took office in 2009, there has been a shift in government policy. In repeated statements to the High Court the state has spoken of its intention to legalize those outposts built on state land.
But the government has insisted that those on private Palestinian property must be removed.
Settlers and right-wing politicians have long argued that the outposts can be and should be legalized, despite Israel’s commitment to the international community that it would not create new settlements.
One official speculated that this pledge might not include the outposts.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not provide details regarding the committee, including how many members it would have and when their work would be completed.
It would not speculate as to whether the Prime Minister’s Office would ask the court to delay any further demolitions pending the completion of the committee’s work.
But MK Danny Danon (Likud) said politicians were now pressing Netanyahu to order a delay.
Livnat said that the committee would look at the status of homes and communities in Judea and Samaria.
This affects hundreds of families who live in an atmosphere of uncertainty, though in many cases their communities were built with initial support from the government and with funds from the Ministry of Construction and Housing, she said.
Livnat has estimated that 160 settler homes are in danger of being destroyed in the next year, with some in the coming months.
Razing homes “is not a worthy solution,” she said.
Livnat added that many of the homes were located on land that could be authorized.
In other cases, where the land belongs to Palestinians, compensation could be offered so that the homes do not have to be destroyed, she said.
Peace Now said that around 70 outposts were located partially or fully on private Palestinian land.
“It is very hard to imagine a legal way to make a land grab legal, but even if this ‘task force’ doesn’t come up with legal solutions, the government will probably be able to use it to buy more time from the courts,” Peace Now said.
Earlier Tuesday, 38 parliamentarians issued an appeal to not demolish settler homes.
More than half of Netanyahu’s Likud party faction, 15 out of its 27 parliamentarians, signed the letter, penned by the Knesset’s Lobby for the Land of Israel.
Other signatories included eight MKs from the Shas party, six MKs from Israel Beiteinu, the four National Union members and the three members of Habayit Hayehudi. One MK from Kadima and one from United Torah Judaism also signed the letter.
Included in the list are five ministers, Eli Yishai of Shas, Daniel Hershkowitz of Habayit Hayehudi, Uzi Landau of Israel Beiteinu, and two from Likud: Yuli Edelstein and Yossi Peled.