Israeli settler outpost in the West Bank, April 25, 2010
Israeli settler outpost in the West Bank. Photo by AP
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In an unprecedented move, the Civil Administration's zoning committee has rejected a government proposal to legalize the West Bank outpost of Sansana, saying there is no justification for a new settlement in the area because it is possible to build within existing ones. The decision is expected to have major implications for government efforts to legalize other unauthorized outposts.

Sansana, located in the south Hebron hills, was established in 2008. Today it numbers 60 families, all in temporary housing.

In 2009, in response to pressure from the settlers, Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved a development plan for 440 homes, some of which already existed, in Sansana. But to avoid declaring Sansana a new settlement, which would violate the government's promise to Washington not to establish new settlements, it was billed as an expansion of the nearby settlement of Eshkolot.

Peace Now and Bimkom - Planners for Planning Rights, together with residents of the nearby Palestinian village of Ramadin, submitted objections to the plan. They argued that Sansana and Eshkolot are three kilometers apart, that they are separated by a fence, that each has its own access road and that Sansana is religious while Eshkolot is secular.

Now, three years later, the administration's Higher Planning Committee has finally issued its decision - and in an unprecedented move, it not only rejected the plan for Sansana but said the entire practice of annexing outposts to existing settlements is illegitimate.

There is no need to "expand" Eshkolot, wrote planning committee chairman Shlomo Moskowitz in his decision, because there is plenty of room for new housing within the settlement's existing boundaries. Its master plan includes space for 347 units, of which only 70 have thus far been built.

Moreover, he said, Sansana is seven kilometers from Eshkolot by road, and there is no justification for expanding the latter into nonadjacent territory.

Finally, he said, the planning committee is the only body that can approve building plans in the territories, and it does not take dictates from the government. Rather, it is obligated to exercise its own best judgment as to whether a given plan is justified from a professional standpoint.

The decision is expected to significantly complicate government efforts to legalize other outposts, because the most common way of doing so is to annex them to an existing settlement, thereby avoiding the need to officially establish a new one.

Most notably, it is expected to complicate efforts to relocate the Migron outpost, which the High Court of Justice has ordered dismantled because it sits on privately-owned Palestinian land. The government has proposed moving the outpost to a nearby plot owned by the state. But Moskowitz, as previously reported in Haaretz, is known to vehemently oppose this plan, and has told other Civil Administration officials that he views it as completely unfeasible. With the Sansana decision, he has sent a clear signal that he will not rubber-stamp the plan just because the government supports it.

His decision also creates a more immediate problem for the government: how to explain to the High Court of Justice why it isn't demolishing Sansana, given that its previous argument - that the outpost was being legalized - has just fallen through. Ramadin residents had petitioned the court against the outpost, but the court had hitherto delayed its ruling in deference to the state's claim that legalization procedures for Sansana, which is located on state land, were underway.