I am opposed in principle to the idea of devoting a report to the subject of the outposts. What is the point of distinguishing between a discussion of the outposts and a discussion of the entire settlement effort? It is clear that the outposts are nothing more than new settlements or the expansion of existing ones.

Distinguishing between a discussion of the outposts and the settlement effort in general is nothing more than another success by the settlement-right to make people think that it is normal for hundreds of thousands of Israelis to continue living outside the sovereign territory of the state, in an area where the population around them has been denied the most basic human rights for generations.

Moreover, a separate discussion of the outposts serves as a line of defense protecting the settlers, while anyone who wants to cross that line through politics and the media will one day wake up to find that "the legal settlements" meanwhile managed to triple and quadruple in size.

Sound familiar? It's a precis of the story of the settlements in the West Bank during the last decade. Here are some examples that make the phenomenon tangible: Migron (some 40 families), Haoreah (some 15 families) and Havat Gilad (three families plus a considerable number of lawless youth) are three of some 100 of the existing outposts in the West Bank. These outposts make the headlines every few months, whenever there is an attempt, which usually fails, to remove some chicken coop or trailer that was sneaked into the place over night.

Does any serious person who knows even superficially the weave of the settlements that slice and dice the territory into dozens of separate enclaves believe that the presence of at most 250 Israelis living in these three outposts (with most of the population consisting of babies and small children) will really do anything to change the question of the future of Israeli control over the West Bank? The occasional repeated discussion of these or other outposts serves as a device in the media and the mind for the settlers to distract attention from the real questions that Israeli society must answer without any delay.

If there were ever a serious discussion about the future of the West Bank and the settlements, the names of the three settlements near those three outposts would come up: Kochav Yaakov, with about 4,000 residents, Eli, with about 2,200 and Kedumim, with some 3,000. The territory and populations of all three of those settlements have tripled in the last decade. A serious discussion would require that Israeli society first of all understand two simple, basic facts: 1. There are two separate nations living in this land, Jewish Israelis and Arab Palestinians, and 2. There is no way that the fate of one of those nations will remain forever subject to the whims of the other - and isn't that precisely the political program for which the settlements and outposts were established?

Nonetheless, a historical discussion of the settlements does apparently bring up one aspect that distinguishes the outposts - or more precisely, some of them, i.e. those established in the last few years - from the overall settlement enterprise. The establishment of some of the outposts reflects a new evolutionary stage in the story of the entire enterprise, in which the power of the political system and the bureaucracy built to serve the settlers began being turned into the development of antibodies against those very systems and those who created them.

It's the stage at which the Israeli authorities have lost control not only over the behavior of the settlers, but over what is being done with the enormous amounts of resources that the state placed in their hands. Thus a twisted reality has emerged in which regional authority chairmen in the West Bank, people elected to collect local taxes and fix roads and sidewalks with the funds, are busy shaping the foreign and defense policies of the State of Israel.

The writer is director of Peace Now's Settlements Watch Project. The article was first published on bitterlemons.org