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The illegal outposts were all planned by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and coordinated with all the official government bodies, the settlers say.

Adi Mintz, until recently the managing director of the Yesha settlers' council, told Haaretz how it worked a few months ago.

"For many years the government deemed it desirable and possible to create settlement contiguity and not leave holes between settlements," he said. "The outposts served as a means to this end. They were set up on the basis of meticulous planning to seize strategic points."

Mintz said all the outposts were coordinated with the prime minister.

"Someone would sit with Sharon and tell him: `This point is strategic and important.' Sharon would get back to him a few days later and say `you're right, this is an important point. It must be seized.' The ministers knew about them. Even Ben Eliezer, as Sharon's defense minister, toed the line and instructed his people to cooperate. This is how the process of approving and licensing most outposts took place. At a certain stage Sharon turned his back and made an about-face. At that stage, the ministries stopped cooperating, but on the ground there were already 100 outposts, some of them approved, some in the process of being approved. Everything was coordinated. We are not lawbreakers. We are not the villain in this tale."

Mintz told almost the whole story, except for the name of Sharon's partner, Zeev Hever, known by the nickname Zambish. Hever was the secretary general of Amana, the Yesha council's settlement movement. He and Sharon were close buddies until the sharp change in Sharon's positions. They used to pore over and draft maps. Sometimes they went out to the territory together. It was no secret. It was a partnership of interests, but mainly of minds. Only Zambish knows how involved Sharon was in drafting the outposts' map. Only Sharon knows how much Zambish knows. But Zambish will probably not talk.

Sharon appointed attorney Talia Sasson to look into the outposts' affair, but Sharon himself, together with Zambish and his men, are the parents of this child. At a certain stage the parents separated, but the child continued growing and demanded his rights: food, budgets, water, electricity, a telephone line.

Everyone looked after the child - the Housing Ministry, the World Zionist Organization's Settlement Division, the Infrastructures Ministry, the Electric Corporation, Mekorot and everyone else. After all, even an "illegitimate child" needs a warm home. Sharon, who has not seen an outpost for a long time, may discover in the coming months that he may be the one left holding this hot potato, the Sasson report that he himself ordered.