Three Years After Sasson, Over 100 Outposts Remain

There are more than 100 unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank, but less than half are due to be evacuated under former prime minister Ariel Sharon's promise to U.S. President George W. Bush.

Sharon promised only to evacuate outposts established after March 2001. According to the Defense Ministry, there are about 25 such outposts; Peace Now puts the number at around 50.

Some 3,000 people currently live in unauthorized outposts. Since 2002, 31 outposts have been evacuated, but about half of these were unpopulated.

According to Peace Now, 75 outposts are built at least partly on private Palestinian land. The Yesha Council of settlements claims that only a handful of outposts are built on Palestinian land, and that "a legal solution could be found for 98 percent of the outposts."

About 80 percent of all outposts were built east of the separation fence - 112 out of 156 (the latter figure includes the 31 that have since been dismantled).

Creating a Jewish presence

Most of these outposts were built either along major roads or on high points that dominate the surrounding territory. Some were established to create territorial contiguity among isolated settlements; others were meant to create a Jewish presence in largely Palestinian areas to prevent them from being transferred to the Palestinian Authority.

According to reports by both the defense establishment and Peace Now, 35 outposts have expanded over the last six months, either through the construction of new permanent housing or the addition of new caravans. In total, this expansion consisted of 35 mobile homes and 10 permanent houses.

The Israel Defense Forces has issued "delimiting orders" against 13 outposts in recent years, but of these, only three have been evacuated. In response to a petition to the High Court of Justice by Peace Now, the Defense Ministry promised to evacuate six others, but this never happened. The organization petitioned the court again and asked it to order their immediate evacuation; that petition is still pending.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been negotiating with the Yesha Council for months in an effort to reach an agreement under which some outposts built since March 2001 would be voluntarily evacuated. Others would be relocated, and still others would remain in place for now.

Bases instead of outposts

In a few cases, evacuated outposts would be replaced by military bases. But the council wants any such deal to include legalizing outposts that are relocated or remain in place, whereas Barak refuses to legalize any of them.

Barak's associates say his main objection to legalizing the outposts is that if Israel eventually evacuates most of the West Bank under an agreement with the Palestinians, the outpost residents would have to be compensated like other settlers, even though the outposts were originally established illegally.

But the Yesha Council claims that almost all outposts were established with the approval of ministers and army officers, so their residents might be able to obtain compensation anyway.

It bases this argument in part on attorney Talia Sasson's report on the outposts, which was commissioned by Sharon's government. Sasson found that the creation of most outposts was facilitated by "certain government agencies, public agencies and regional councils in Judea and Samaria."

Even if Barak and the Yesha Council reach an agreement, however, there is no guarantee that all the settlers will accept it. The disengagement from Gaza in 2005 greatly weakened the council's status among the settlers, and many individuals and organizations no longer accept its authority.