'14 West Bank settler outposts to be legalized, 20 already approved'
In the last four years Israel has advanced plans to legalize 14 West Bank outposts and has approved 20 such fledgling hilltop communities, Peace Now said in a new report it issued on Monday.
“The retroactive legalization of illegal outposts is a slap in the face of the Quartet,” asserted Peace Now, referencing a report issued by the Quartet earlier this month on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To the disappointment of the Palestinians, that report did not blame settlement building for the frozen peace process.
For Netanyahu to continue settlement activity in the wake of such a report, Peace Now said, is a signal to “Israel’s most important allies that he is not interested in peace and two states but rather in the continuation of the occupation.”
Settlement activity continues unabated, it said, noting the results of the July 6 meeting of the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria, in which plans were advanced to legalize Horesh Yaron, which was first built in 1996 in the Binyamin region near Talmon with NIS 50,000 from the Ministry of Housing and Construction, but was never given any official permits.
It houses an education facility for teenagers and there are additional plans to build a sports center there, said Hagit Ofran of Peace Now.
Before Netanyahu took office in 2009, the international community and many left-wing Israelis expected Israel to remove some 100 unapproved fledgling communities known as outposts.
However, Netanyahu’s government sought to authorize such communities when possible, viewing such outposts not as illegal, but rather places that had not yet received authorization.
Similarly Netanyahu has also sought to retroactively legalize unauthorized settler homes in existing settlements. According to Peace Now, plans were advanced to retroactively legalize 314 settler homes in the first half of 2016.
Traditionally, the international community has focused on settlement building, but in the last year it has expanded its criticism to include the advancement of building plans and the retroactive legalization of homes and outposts.
In Washington earlier this month, US State Department spokesman John Kirby issued a particularly harsh statement against such practices. Israel’s “systematic process of land seizures, settlement expansions, and legalizations of outposts is fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution,” Kirby said.
Peace Now said on Monday that the Quartet’s report – penned by the US, the EU, the UN and Russia – raises similar concerns.
“The Quartet report’s criticism on Israel’s settlement policy focused specifically on retroactive legalization of illegal outposts and illegal construction,” Peace Now said. In the first half this year, it said, Netanyahu’s government advanced plans for the construction of 1,509 new settler homes, including 503 in Ma’aleh Adumim. The High Planning Council on July 6 pushed forward plans for those units under orders from Netanyahu and approved another 28 in that same city, which is the third largest in the West Bank, Peace Now said.
Separately last week, Netanyahu ordered tenders published for 42 new homes in Kiryat Arba. They are the first tenders for West Bank homes to be published this year, Peace Now said. The announcement came after a Palestinian teenager infiltrated Kiryat Arba and murdered Hillel Yaffa Ariel, 13, while she was asleep in her bedroom.
Also in response to Ariel’s death and the killing of Rabbi Michael Mark in a terrorist shooting attack in the South Hebron Hills, plans were advanced for 169 new homes in the post-1967 Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramot, Pisgat Ze’ev and Har Homa.
“Today it is very clear that there is no [settlement] freeze, not in planning and not in construction,” Peace Now said.
Settlers have complained that the approvals are almost inconsequential compared to the thousands of new units that they need.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, settler housing starts dropped by 53 percent in the first quarter of 2016, compared with the same period last year.
It was the sharpest drop in housing starts for any region. Nationwide, the decline was 8.1%.
At a rally in Otniel on Sunday night, MK Oren Hazen (Likud) called for the settler population of close to 400,000 to more than double in size.
“There should be a million people living in Judea and Samaria,” Hazen said.