West Bank Migron settlement, AP
Settlers rebuilding the Migron outpost in the West Bank after it was demolished by the IDF, April 27, 2010. Photo by AP
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Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is aiming to restrict the purview of the committee whose formation Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently announced, and which is to be tasked with finding ways to legalize unauthorized West Bank outposts built on private Palestinian lands. As of last night the future of the controversial proposed committee seemed in doubt.

Netanyahu's decision to appoint a panel of jurists that do not work in the Attorney General's Office was apparently prompted by pressure from right-wing cabinet ministers and Knesset members, in the face of promises by the state to demolish buildings in various settlements. These include Givat Asaf, an outpost built on private Palestinian-owned land without construction permits, which is home to 25 Jewish families. Furthermore, High Court of Justice has given the state until the end of March 2012 to demolish the Migron outpost, and in addition the state undertook to destroy six buildings in the settlement of Beit El, by Independence Day next spring.

The scope, agenda, composition, mode of operation and timetable of the proposed committee have not been defined. Since it was announced three weeks ago, its composition and authority have been the focus of a behind-the-scenes battle.

The committee has become an object of ridicule in Weinstein's bureau, where it is seen as an attempt to bypass that office's authority and to use legal tricks to violate Palestinian property rights. Weinstein has informed officials in the Prime Minister's Bureau that any entity built on private Palestinian land, or in places where the High Court has already issued rulings, will be off-limits to the committee. The panel will, however, be able to discuss issues related to agricultural property, as well as administrative procedures such as the need for the cabinet to approve the retroactive authorization of outposts.

On Friday officials in the Prime Minister's Bureau told settler leaders not to expect too much from the committee.

Somewhat surprisingly, Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin has come out against the proposed body, arguing that it is immoral to steal land for settlements.

Last night Yesha Council of settlements head Danny Dayan told Haaretz, "It often seems as if the prime minister has conceded his authority to control two executive branch bodies: the Attorney General's Office and the Civil Administration. The ministers must take action to restore the authorities to their original format."