The outpost of Ramat Gilad in Samaria - Daniel Bar-On
The outpost of Ramat Gilad in Samaria, one that may be affected by the legislation. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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A bill seeking to retroactively legalize Jewish settlements and outposts built on Palestinian land is due to come up for a vote in the Knesset this week, despite the cabinet's opposition.

Coalition sources said over the weekend that without ministerial support, the bill's proponents would have a hard time securing a majority in the Knesset.

Instead, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appointed a new committee to examine various ways to legalize the construction and cause minimal damage to settlers, he told Likud ministers in a meeting yesterday.

The committee, which will be headed by retired Supreme Court justice Edmond Levy, will begin working in the next few days.

Netanyahu's announcement came even though coalition chairman Zeev Elkin (Likud ) said last week he would allow MKs to vote according to their conscience, but only if the cabinet does not attempt to promote an alternative solution.

The bill states that Jewish areas in the West Bank will not be evacuated if the legal owners of the land on which they were built waited at least four years, starting from the time settlers began living there, before laying claim to the land. It stipulates that the settlements or outposts must be populated by at least 20 families.

The bill, sponsored by MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi ), allows those claiming ownership to seek financial compensation through the courts. It also authorizes the courts to allot the claimants an alternative plot of land of similar value.

"We must find a balance between the interest of the owners, who should be fully compensated, and the public interest in not destroying communities that were established in good faith, without knowing that it was privately owned land," the explanatory portion of the bill states.

The cabinet has not discussed the outpost bill since the Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided several weeks ago to oppose it, even though some ministers have appealed that decision. Netanyahu is not allowing ministers from his Likud party or any other coalition party to vote in favor of the bill, though other MKs are expected to be allowed to vote their conscience.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan of Likud asked, and was denied, permission yesterday to vote for the proposal. He said Minister Benny Begin, who was appointed by Netanyahu to take charge of the issue, was preventing advocates of the bill from airing their views in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation.

Last week, residents of the largest outpost in the West Bank refused Netanyahu's proposal to voluntarily evacuate their homes and rebuild their community on nearby state land.

The High Court of Justice has ruled that the Migron outpost must be evacuated by March 31. Migron residents say the land never belonged to Palestinians, and that they have deeds attesting to their own purchase of some of the land. These claims were previously rejected by the Civil Administration.

They said if it turns out that the land is owned by a Palestinian individual or group, the state should provide the owners with financial compensation rather than evacuate the outpost.