Eitam Claims Sharon Knew of Illegal Outpost Approvals

Report into illegal settlement construction finds some outposts planned by Housing Ministry under Eitam, built on private Palestinian land.

Former Housing Minister MK Effi Eitam lashed out on Wednesday evening in reaction to a report on illegal settlement building in the West Bank, saying that all illegal outposts he had approved during his time in office were approved in coordination with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, had his full backing and were sometimes initiated by him.

The report, by attorney Talia Sasson, found that some of the illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank were both planned and funded by the Housing Ministry, including a number of those built on private Palestinian land.

Sasson submitted her report to Sharon on Tuesday night. The report essentially confirms longstanding complaints by Palestinians and activist groups like Peace Now that successive Israeli governments, including those in power after the signing of the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s, approved and financed for decades the establishment of outpost settlements on privately-owned Palestinian land.

In light of the harsh accusations, Sasson recommended that the Housing Ministry be stripped of authority over construction of settlements in the West Bank, and that this power be transferred to the cabinet.

Current Housing Minister Isaac Herzog said following the release of the report that every expense earmarked for the settlements will now need the approval of the ministry's director-general.

Up until now, the heads of each department at the ministry have been able to sign off on expenses for various construction and infrastructure matters at the settlements.

Also in response to the report, Herzog said that "the main responsibility for the building of illegal outposts in recent years falls with my predecessor, Effi Eitam and his director general." He also added that when he took up the position earlier this year, he ordered that no monies be transferred to the illegal outposts, as well as the establishment of a joint Defense Ministry and Prime Minister?s Office team to coordinate the budgets for the settlements.

'Uncooperative ministries'Sasson also told reporters at Wednesday's press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem that a number of government ministries had failed to hand over some of the information she requested.

"I was unable to access all the data I asked for from government ministries," Sasson said, adding that the list of outposts that appears in the report is not a complete one. "I do not have a full picture of all the outposts," she said.

She also called on Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to look into the involvement of government employees in the establishment of illegal outposts, and prosecute the offenders.

Sasson said the complacency over unauthorized settlement outpost construction was not limited to the Housing Ministry alone, accusing the IDF Civil Administration and the Defense Ministry of involvement.

According to Sasson, the Defense Ministry must approve any trailers being placed in the West Bank - which in fact it did, in contradiction of the defense minister's instructions.

Sasson said she does not know whether the ministers themselves knew what their ministries were doing, and that it is possible other ministries were also involved in the outpost construction.

Sasson also refrained from mentioning any of the ministers by name, with the exception of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, whom she credited with immediately halting the funding of caravans destined for outposts when she became housing minister.

Following the report's publication, Yahad Chairman Yossi Beilin called for a formal government investigation into the matter, with ministries legally compelled to provide all relevant information.

Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer called on the government to take "clear and drastic" action against the outposts, Army Radio reported.

The cabinet will discuss the report in its weekly meeting on Sunday.

The U.S. administration warned Israel on Tuesday that its failure to keep its promise to remove all outposts established in the West Bank since March 2001 will harm relations between the countries, and could have an impact on American aid to Israel.

At their last meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Dov Weisglass, the prime minister's adviser, that President Bush expects Jerusalem to take immediate action based on the conclusions and recommendations in Sasson's report on the outposts.

The Sasson report also confirms the findings of the State Comptroller in his 2003 report, in which the defense minister and his advisor on settlements are said to have either actively or passively enabled the transfer of mobile homes to new outpost sites.

Sasson also confirms the comptroller's findings that funds sent to settlements for security, road paving, electricity and water, lighting and other infrastructure needs went to illegal outposts.