Biton: No budget to legalize West Bank settler outposts

Right now the Civil Administration lacks the ability to service Israeli and Palestinians in Area C, according to Biton.

Defense Ministry's Civil and Social Issues Minister Michael Biton touring the Gaza Strip area, August 20, 2020. (photo credit: TAL OZ/DEFENSE MINISTRY/POLICE SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Defense Ministry's Civil and Social Issues Minister Michael Biton touring the Gaza Strip area, August 20, 2020.
Without a budget of NIS 20-30 million, West Bank settler outposts can’t be authorized, Minister in the Defense Ministry Michael Biton (Blue and White) told KAN News radio on Wednesday morning.
Biton said that the IDF’s Civil Administration’s unit that deals with building matters is chronically underfunded and understaffed, with just 17 employees. It can’t keep pace with the development in Area C, which is under its auspices, Biton said.
“The Civil Administration has to be put back on its feet. An investment of NIS 20-30 million is needed for planning, and only then can one act on a government decision that ‘here a community will be built,’” Biton said.
Right now the Civil Administration lacks the ability to service Israelis and Palestinians in Area C, he said.
“I support [the provision of] a good life for Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.
“Without a funded and operational Civil Administration with the ability to plan and provide solutions,” any statement about authorizing the outposts “will just be a declaration without any basis,” he said.
The situation has been “neglected,” he added.
He spoke out a week after Community Affairs Minister Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) told the Knesset that he and Biton were drafting a government decision to clarify Israel’s intent to authorize the illegal fledgling communities.
There are some 70-100 such outposts, which were built between 1992 and 2020. Hanegbi said that criteria would have to be developed to determine which outposts would be eligible for authorization.
Hanegbi estimated that, as a starting assumption, there are 69 outposts that could be authorized. He added that he would be working on the matter together with Biton, with the support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Biton told KAN News that Hanegbi had spoken out of turn and made it seem as though a more sweeping action would be taking place with regard to the outposts.
He similarly said that Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevitch (Blue and White) had also overgeneralized when on Sunday she told a right-wing rally in support of the outposts that all the unauthorized communities would be legalized.
Yankelevitch herself later sent out a statement clarifying that the party’s stance is to support the authorization of outposts on state land, that were built in “good faith.”
Biton also watered down the impact of Hanegbi’s statement with regard to authorizing the outposts, by describing a narrow set of parameters by which to legalize those communities.
There are communities for which there is already a government decision to authorize, or which can be authorized as a neighborhood of an existing settlement because they are on state land within its municipal boundaries, Biton said. The only reason for the delay in authorization in those cases is lack of resources, he said.
“What is illegal on private Palestinian property won’t be authorized,” he said.
Communities on state land can be authorized according to the law with the support of the attorney-general, Biton said.
Time was wasted, he said, because for a number of years the focus was on the settlement regulation law, which the High Court of Justice eventually ruled went against Israel’s basic laws.
That law would have allowed for the retroactive authorization of close to 4,000 illegally built settler homes, on private Palestinian property, of which 3,173 are in settlements and 797 were in outposts.
During that same time, Biton said, the government would have sought other means of authorizing the communities, which he referred to as “young settlements.”
Among the stumbling blocks to authorization is that work is still needed on property registration in the West Bank, which makes it hard to determine in some cases if the property on which the outposts were built belongs privately to Palestinians or whether it can be classified as state land.
Efrat Council head Oded Revivi said the government shouldn’t pour more money into the failed Civil Administration but should close it altogether.
Instead, Israeli law should be applied within the boundaries of the settlements.
It’s a move that would bring them under the purview of existing government bodies within sovereign Israel that could execute work needed for authorization, he said.
The application of Israeli law is equated with annexation, a move that Israel agreed to suspend in exchange for its normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Revivi also called on the government to adopt the 2012 Edmund Levy report, which provided a blueprint for the authorization of illegal settler homes, including in the outposts.
“Biton’s good intentions should be welcomed, but when it comes to action, the opposite must be done,” Revivi said.