MKs try to get a handle on outposts

On fact-finding mission, MK Ezra says building makes the situation with the Palestinians worse.

Holding a cigarette and wearing a gray pressed suit, MK Gideon Ezra (Kadima) had no problem standing at the Migron outpost on Thursday and saying he supported its evacuation. If Israel wants to make a goodwill gesture to the United States, "the easiest thing to do is to dismantle outposts [such as Migron] which stand on Palestinian land," he said. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should move "a quarter of a finger" in the direction of the Americans, he said. He stood next to MK Nissim Ze'ev (Shas), at the tail end of an outpost tour organized by the Samaria Regional Council that members of a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee subgroup had taken on Thursday. Migron is one of the largest of 26 outposts which Israel has promised the US it would evacuate. Although some of the communities on the list are built on privately owned Palestinian land, the list includes all outposts constructed after March 2001. This cutoff date is the list's most significant criterion. As part of an agreement reached with the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, Migron is slated to be removed within the next few years to the nearby Adam settlement. Located in the Binyamin region, north of Jerusalem, Migron was the last of the five outposts the parliamentarians visited as part of a fact-finding mission to better understand the issues. Ezra said he believed in a final-status solution that the Adam settlement itself could be among the communities to be evacuated. "There is no point in evacuating Migron twice," he said; it should be removed to an area that is likely to be retained by Israel in a final-status agreement. But Ze'ev said it was premature to calculate what part of Judea and Samaria might be returned. As a number of small boys clad in T-shirts, shorts and skull caps eavesdropped on the conversation about their future, Ze'ev spoke of his belief that the outposts should remain where they are and settlement construction should continue to allow for normal life. Waving his arms for emphasis, Ze'ev said, "If we give them [the Palestinians] all of Judea and Samaria, in the end there will be no peace." Construction should move forward in the settlements and more needs to be done politically to support Netanyahu so that he can stand firm against American pressure to freeze settlement activity, the Ze'ev said. "We need to do more to support Bibi day by day." It is senseless to evacuate outposts, unless they are built on Palestinian land, because the Americans appear to be against all Jewish construction in the West Bank, whether it is in an outpost or a settlement, Ze'ev said. But he stopped short of calling for legalization of the outposts. To sway the lawmakers to support Migron at its present location, Migron resident Itai Harel unfurled a map and explained that the claim it was built on private Palestinian land was dubious, even though the state has accepted the argument. Earlier in the day, as legislators visited other outposts, not constructed on private Palestinian land, a number of them, including Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely, called on the government to legalize any of the 100 outposts not built on private Palestinian land. According to the Sasson report, which was accepted by the cabinet in March 2005, 15 outposts were situated on private Palestinian land and 39 were partially on Palestinian land and partially on state land. Hotovely called on the government to formally rescind its acceptance of the Sasson report, which she said was inaccurate. The problem is that the government has determined legality and illegality of the communities in Judea and Samaria based on this report, she said. A new report should be issued that reexamines the legal status of many of the outposts. "We must approve legally all these beautiful settlements," she said. "The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not about the outposts, it is about Jerusalem," Hotovely said. She added that harming settlers four years after the destruction of 25 settlements in 2005 during disengagement, "won't help anything." The Israeli public is under the misconception the outposts were randomly created by someone who woke up in the morning and placed a tent and a caravan on a hilltop, said Hotovely. Most of these communities were initiated with the approval and support of past governments, and that should be recognized. "Let us not lose land on a technicality," she said. Council head Dani Dayan called for the reconstitution of the ministerial committee which under the Olmert government had been tasked with setting a new standard for what was legal and illegal in Judea and Samaria. With all the talk of the outposts, it was important to say that what was most needed at this point was approval for new construction in the settlement, he added. Ezra said he admired the settlers but that the issue of settlement construction could not be divorced from the political reality of American pressure and the future Palestinian state. The question that needs to be asked is which actions help and which ones harm the peace process, he said. It is obvious, said Ezra, that at this point, building makes the situation with the Palestinians worse. "It is problematic to building unauthorized outposts and it seems to be the right thing to do to stop the building, especially in the settlements [that won't be kept in a final-status solution]," he said.