Defense Ministry to Provide Services to Illegal Outposts

A Defense Ministry official confirmed Monday it will provide services to eight West Bank settlement outposts, despite the government's earlier pledge to remove them as part of a stalled U.S.-backed peace plan.

Dismantling dozens of unauthorized settlement outposts was one of Israel's obligations under the "road map" peace plan, which was launched in June with great fanfare, but quickly bogged down over disagreements and violence.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the outposts will be fenced in and receive lighting, and children living there will be bused to schools.

The assurances were given to residents of the outpost in a letter by Ron Shechner, the settlement adviser of Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

Israel radio reported Monday that the document instructs government authorities to give Pnei Kedem, Neve Erez, Mitzpe Kramim, Migron and other outposts the status of a permanent township.

Shechner told the Yedioth Ahronoth daily that this does not mean the outposts are being legalized. However, the decision appears to imply recognition, and as such would violate Israel's promise to the United States not to establish new settlements.

The Israeli group Peace Now, which monitors settlement expansion, said that when the road map was launched, there were 104 outposts. Since then, the military has dismantled seven, but five more were established, bringing the latest total to 102. Peace Now spokesman Dror Etkes said the population in the outposts has grown.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Israel of systematically sabotaging the road map. "These actions have to be condemned by the United States and the Quartet (of Mideast mediators) and I call upon them to intervene immediately," Erekat said.

The road map required Israel to dismantle dozens of settlement outposts built without authorization since March 2001, and to freeze construction in about 150 veteran settlements.

Israel has since said it would take no further action on the road map until the Palestinians begin dismantling militant groups, as required by the peace plan. Qureia, like his predecessors, has said he will not use force against the armed groups.

The State Comptroller report submitted in the beginning of October found that when Benjamin Ben-Eliezer was defense minister, the ministry's settlement unit subsidized security elements in illegal outposts and neighborhoods built in settlements, with the authorization for the spending being based on Home Front documents and documents provided by the settlement unit.

The comptroller found that the department approved moving and placing trailers on land before the legal status of that land was determined and without the formal approval from appropriate officials in the Civil Administration, as required by proper operating procedures.

Yossi Vardi, the former settlements assistant to the defense minister, said that the IDF Central Command's position is that Jewish settlers must be given security in those places where legal proceedings are underway to make the statutory arrangements for the settlements. The comptroller says he believes the settlement unit's officer should not be using state financing to help pay for settlement activity that had not been formally approved.