US Embassy: Outpost legalizing undermines peace

American official attends High Court hearing on outposts; Legal Forum for Land of Israel condemns his presence as interference.

Givat Assaf sign 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Givat Assaf sign 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli efforts to legalize West Bank outposts undermine the peace process, the US Embassy in Tel Aviv warned Wednesday in advance of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s arrival Thursday for a two-day visit to help rekindle talks with the Palestinians.
“We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and oppose any efforts to legalize settlement outposts, which would undermine peace efforts and would contradict Israeli commitments and obligations,” US embassy spokesman Geoff Anisman told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
He added that the US position on these points has been clear and has not changed.
Anisman spoke in the aftermath of a High Court of Justice hearing on a Peace Now petition demanding that the state enforce the law and demolish six unauthorized West Bank outposts.
The state, however, has told the court verbally and in writing that it intends to legalize four of them: Givat Assaf, Ma’aleh Rehavam, Givat Ha- Roeh and Mitzpe Lachish.
A US embassy representative was at the hearing, but refused to speak to the press.
The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel immediately condemned his presence there, charging that it was a blatant US attempt to interfere with Israeli internal legal procedures.
But Anisman said that US representatives often went to court proceedings and Knesset sessions as part of their routine work to monitor Israeli activity. This is similar to how US embassies in other countries operate, he said.
These four unauthorized Jewish communities are part of a larger list of 24 outposts built after March 2001, which former prime minister Ariel Sharon promised the US he would remove. Former prime minister Ehud Olmert repeated that pledge to the US as did Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu shortly after he took office in March 2009.
Hagit Ofran of Peace Now has said that legalization of these four outposts also contradicts past Israeli promises not to create new settlements or expand existing ones.
The Palestinians have insisted that they will not hold direct negotiations with Israel until it halts all West Bank settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem.
Israel has refused to cede to that request and has insisted instead that talks be held without preconditions.
But since Netanyahu took office in 2009, internally within Israel the conversation about the outposts, has shifted from the diplomatic arena to the internal legal one. The central question when dealing with the outposts has not been its impact on the negotiations, but rather the question of whether they are located on private Palestinian property or state land.
Under Netanyahu, the state’s general policy is to seek authorization of settler homes on state land and to evacuate those on private Palestinian property.
Lawyers for the outposts who spoke before the court on Wednesday addressed the property issues involved in this distinction and argued that the case should be dismissed.
They explained that each outpost has specific issues that should be addressed individually.
Peace Now attorney Michael Sfard, however, argued that his organization’s petition was about law enforcement and had nothing to do with property rights, or the status of the land.
Injunctions have been issued against these outposts since 2004, but were never enforced, he said.
The state speaks of wanting to authorize these outposts, but has come to the court without the necessary government decision to do so, Sfard said.
The state attorney said in response that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s statement that the government wants to authorize them should suffice for the court.
Separately, the state told the court on Tuesday night that within three months, it intends within three months to demolish unauthorized homes on private Palestinian property in the outposts of Mitzpe Yitzhar and Ma’aleh Rehavam.
The state has already removed homes on private Palestinian property on the Ramat Gilad outpost, which is part of the six-outpost petition, but has yet to make a final statement about the status of sections of the outpost on state land.