The government will immediately dismantle all illegal settlement outposts built on privately-owned Palestinian land, with the sole exception of the house owned by slain Israel Defense Forces officer Eliraz Peretz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided on Monday in consultation with the defense minister and the attorney general.
The decision, which will be submitted to the High Court of Justice in response to 15 petitions demanding the outposts' demolition, will apply to at least three outposts inhabited by about 100 families.
At the same time, however, the government will begin legalizing illegal outposts built on state land. Regarding Peretz's house, the government will ask the court for more time to find a solution.
The decision was approved unanimously by the "septet" forum of top cabinet ministers.
Later on Monday, Netanyahu told a meeting of his Likud faction that Israel could not ignore growing international pressure over construction in the West Bank, but that the government would preserve ongoing settlement activity to the best of its ability.
"We are currently making efforts to maintain existing construction, but we must understand that we are [faced with] a very difficult international reality," he told the meeting.
He was speaking one week after the United States vetoed a United Nations resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and four days before officials from the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers were to meet Israeli and Palestinian representatives in an effort to jump-start the peace process.
"The American veto in the Security Council took great effort to achieve," Netanyahu said. "We could ignore it all and say 'no problem,' but as the prime minister responsible for this state, I have the ultimate responsibility."
As such, he hinted that Israel should refrain from pushing new construction plans.
"I am the prime minister, and I am responsible for this state," said Netanyahu. "We could surely hide our heads in the sand, but that's not how I do things."
Nevertheless, Netanyahu said, the government would strive to ensure that current construction could continue, as long as it is legal. "There is construction in the West Bank," he said. "It's true that in some places there are no tenders and that is being checked, but we are currently making efforts to maintain existing construction."
The septet is to meet again on Tuesday to decide whether to send Netanyahu's envoy for the peace process, Isaac Molho, to the Quartet conference.
Netanyahu has voiced reservations about doing so, fearing that by agreeing to send Molho, he would open the door to international pressure regarding the terms of new peace talks. Specifically, the premier is afraid of being forced to agree to discuss a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.
Officials in the Prime Minister's Office indicated that Netanyahu had been in contact with the U.S. administration in an attempt to discover the goals of the Brussels session before making his decision.
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