Virtually not a week goes by without a new revelation, each more sensational and revolting than the previous one, about the building spree in West Bank settlements, in blatant violation of the law and in complete contradiction to official government policy. All this is happening with the knowledge of the defense officials responsible for enforcing the law in the territories, and with cooperation - by commission or omission - from the political echelon. The latest discovery does not rely on external sources such as Peace Now, which specializes in monitoring and documenting activity in the Land of the Settlers. Amos Harel's report in Friday's Haaretz about the 200 mobile homes that have been placed in the West Bank during the past six months quotes documents prepared by the Civil Administration - the body responsible for enforcing planning and construction laws in the area.
In the middle of last week, it was reported that Defense Minister Amir Peretz had authorized the repopulation of Maskiot, an abandoned Nahal Brigade outpost. Thirty new homes will be set up there for evacuees from Gush Katif, in the Gaza Strip. Maskiot is one of a long list of communities established beyond the Green Line that have been completely untouched by the government's commitment under the road map: to freeze all settlement activities, including "natural growth." Two weeks ago, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz notified Peretz that according to data he received from the Civil Administration, construction in the illegal outposts is continuing, including the construction of permanent structures. Mazuz listed 168 illegal structures that had been identified in the settlements and outposts over the past year.
It will soon be two years since the government decided, in response to a report on the outposts drafted by attorney Talia Sasson, "to keep its commitment to dismantle unauthorized outposts set up since March 2001." As a result of this delay, the demolition orders issued against some of the outposts are close to expiry, a fact that will make the evacuations more difficult, if such a day ever comes. According to last Friday's report, the Israel Defense Forces have not presented a detailed plan or a timetable for evacuating the outposts. Instead, for some months now, the defense minister has been involved in negotiations with the leaders of the Yesha Council of settlements in an effort to reach an agreement on the voluntary evacuation of some outposts and the relocation of the rest to within the boundaries of the "mother" settlements.
The agreement being formulated with the settlers is reminiscent of the outposts agreement of October 1999, in which then prime and defense minister Ehud Barak reached a deal with the Yesha Council to evacuate a mere 11 outposts (four of which were empty), out of a total of 42 illegal outposts. At the time, Barak was praised for this "precedent," in which the Yesha Council and even some of the right's political leaders expressed their willingness to cooperate with the government in carrying out a decision to evacuate communities in the territories. He argued that the agreement with the "mainstream" settlers would "contribute to bolstering the rule of law." But according to the Sasson report, now collecting dust in government ministries, since that "precedent" was established, at least 60 more outposts have been set up - most with government assistance, and all while the army turned a blind eye. It seems that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert adheres to that same longstanding tradition of "bolstering the rule of law."
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