On US election eve, MKs say Netanyahu must act now to legalize outposts

Right-wing parliamentarians worry a change in US leadership may doom West Bank outposts • settlers living there are the "last line in our fighting against the Palestinian takeover of Area C"

MK Gideon Saar signs a declaration demanding that Netanyahu authorize West Bank outposts (photo credit: KNESSET LAND OF ISRAEL CAUCUS)
MK Gideon Saar signs a declaration demanding that Netanyahu authorize West Bank outposts
On the eve of the United States elections, right-wing parliamentarians called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to legalize the West Bank outposts before it's too late.
"We have a window of opportunity and we do not have much time. The responsibilities rest on all our shoulders," Yesha Council CEO Yigal Dilmoni said Monday during a heated debate in the Knesset Land of Israel Caucus on the fate of close to 100 West Bank outposts.
At issue for the parliamentarians was the impact Tuesday's US Elections will have on Israeli government policy regarding West Bank settlements, not just with regard to the continued suspension of annexation but also with an eye to construction and the fate of some 100 fledgling, illegal settler communities known as outposts.
Among their fears is that a loss by US President Donald Trump could make authorization of the outposts impossible in the future. For several years, right-wing parliamentarians had warned that not enough had been done to maximize the Trump administration's support for Judea and Samaria so that the issue would be resolved during his tenure.  
Netanyahu already wasted the opportunity to apply sovereignty to West Bank settlements by suspending the annexation plan, but now there is another window of opportunity with respect to the outposts that must be actualized, Yamina MK Ofir Soffer said.
The parliamentarians linked authorization of the outposts with what they have called the battle for Area C between Israel and the Palestinians, for control of 60% of the West Bank, now under IDF military and civilian auspices. Both Palestinians and the Israeli Right want to see the territory of Area C within their permanent borders.
"We have to make an extreme effort; we do not know how things will end in the US. We have to make an effort by the end of the year to do everything that can be done," Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin (Likud) said. He urged parliamentarians to place a particular emphasis on outposts that were located outside the boundaries of Trump's annexation map.
ORIT STRUCK of Hebron said that the problem was that there are outposts whose fate could only be resolved through being authorized as new settlements, a move that needs government approval.
During the meeting, parliamentarians signed a declaration calling on Netanyahu to authorize the outposts.
Parliamentarians, all of whom are on the Right, acknowledged that during the last four years when a sympathetic Trump administration had ruled Washington and Netanyahu had led the country, little had occurred to resolve this issue.
"What is not authorized will simply be destroyed," Yamina MK Matan Kahana said. The settlers that live in the outposts are the "last line in our fighting against the Palestinian takeover of Area C."
Eliyahu Atia, who represents the outposts as the head of the Young Settlements Forum, agreed that the Right stands on the edge of disaster when it comes to the outposts. It's not enough for politicians to tour the outposts and pledge support, he said in reference to a visit by parliamentarians last week to some of the fledgling communities – action must follow, he added.
It is "absurd" when the Knesset and the government fail to pay the political price for authorization, Atia said. If politicians aren't going to authorize the outposts, "they might as well destroy them, because that is what will happen anyway," he said. Then, when the communities are destroyed, everyone will point fingers and roll their eyes, Atia added.
He urged the politicians to authorize the Interior Ministry to at least register the outposts as legal communities with an official symbol.
MK Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) warned that the Palestinian Authority was "occupying" Area C through illegal construction and agriculture, explaining that Israel had moved into a new battle for that region.
When it comes to establishing facts on the ground, the Palestinians have been more successful than Israel, Sa'ar said. They want territorial contiguity and to place the settlements in enclaves.
The issue is broader than the outposts and must include a plan for Israel to ensure its hold on all of Area C, said Sa'ar as he called for "immediate and wide-ranging action."
YESHA COUNCIL head David Elhayani said the best that could happen now was for the government to issue a declaration of intent to legalize the outposts. Let's not "deceive ourselves – there will be no political decision here tomorrow morning" – but a statement would allow the Civil Administration to advance authorization by allowing for the legal provision of utilities, he said. It would also allow the IDF to provide protection, he added. To the parliamentarians, he said, "You have the power and the drive."
Knesset Speaker Levin said that politicians had erred by over-focusing on the question of governmental decision, rather than urging Netanyahu to allow the Civil Administration to authorize as many of the outposts as possible as new neighborhoods of existing settlements.
Elhayani noted that veteran settler leader Pinhas Wallerstein, who had headed the committee to regulate the outpost over the past several years, had indexed all of the outposts and clarified what steps needed to be taken to authorize them. There had been little support for his work; Wallerstein stepped down this summer.
Karnei Shomron Council head Yigal Lahav underscored that in some cases, all the preparatory work is done and all that is needed is approval.
No resolution with regard to a way forward was achieved at the meeting. Former justice minister MK Ayelet Shaked (Yamina) spoke of the need for legislation.
Caucus co-chair Bezalel Smotrich (Yamina) said, "let's spend the next two months" on a declaration.
Co-chair Haim Katz (Likud) agreed with Levin that it was important to resolve the easiest problems first, and that this would help achieve results overall.