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The state told the High Court of Justice on Friday that it might grant legal standing to unauthorized construction at the West Bank outposts of Givat Hayovel and Hersha if the structures in question were built on state-owned land.

Eitan Broshi, Defense Minister Ehud Barak's adviser on Jewish settlement issues, said that land surveys had been delayed due to a lack of manpower in the section of the Civil Administration responsible for that job.

Broshi's statements to the court on Friday came in a case filed in 2005 by Peace Now; the organization seeks the demolition of 12 structures at Givat Hayovel and six at Hersha. Over the past year, High Court justices in the case have been pressing the state for a timetable on demolishing the buildings.

The case took a new turn with the death in March of Maj. Eliraz Peretz, an officer in the Givati Brigade who had lived with his family at the Givat Hayovel outpost and was killed in the Gaza Strip.

Residents of Givat Hayovel enlisted the support of Likud ministers Moshe Ya'alon and Benny Begin to pressure their cabinet colleagues to retroactively legalize the homes at the outpost. Barak sent a letter to Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch asking that a ruling on the matter be deferred.

Peace Now deferral

Last Monday Peace Now told the court that it would agree to defer the demolition at Givat Hayovel of the homes of Peretz and Maj. Roi Klein, who was killed in the Second Lebanon War. But the group insisted that the orders to tear down other structures be carried out.

Last Friday, in response to Peace Now's position, Broshi announced the state's intention to conduct the land survey to determine the structures' legal status and consider legalizing buildings found to have been put up on state land. The survey is expected to be carried out within the next several months.

Peace Now chief Yariv Oppenheimer said the move means that the government is "upending the entire policy on the outposts, legalizing dozens of illegal structures and in practice establishing new settlements."

He said this would run contrary to all the government's previous commitments. In contrast, the heads of the Land of Israel group in the Knesset, Zeev Elkin (Likud ) and Aryeh Eldad (National Union ), praised the state's decision.

They also want shelved the report issued to the government of prime minster Ariel Sharon on the outposts; they said that it "threatened to destroy dozens of neighborhoods and communities built over a matter of years with government encouragement and funding."

The Organization for Human Rights in Judea and Samaria called the state's announcement to the High Court of Justice a step in the right direction and "proof that it is possible to solve the matter of the outposts, whose residents have fallen victim over the years to a smear campaign."