Gov't Okays Sasson Report, Panel Set Up to Implement It

Attorney Talia Sasson said there is no legal difference between the 71 outposts that went up before March 2001 and the 24 established after that date. "They are all illegal," she said.

The government yesterday voted 18-1 to approve the recommendations in attorney Talia Sasson's report on the illegal outposts and set up a ministerial committee to deliver a detailed proposal for action within 90 days.

The only minister to vote against was the Labor Party's Dalia Itzik. Heading the nine-member committee is Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. The panel is made up of six Likud ministers and three Labor Party ministers.

Sasson presented the ministers with her report's main conclusions, saying, "the government spoke in two voices on the issue of the outposts. The government must take into its hands responsibility for what is happening in the outposts in the territories and not sit on the sidelines watching as the settlers do whatever they want, without anyone stopping them."

She said there is no legal difference between the 71 outposts that went up before March 2001 and the 24 established after that date. "They are all illegal," she said. "It is important to emphasize that it's not merely to evacuate the outposts but to cease the entire procedure of budgeting and transferring state funds to the outposts."

"The very heart of the report," she said, "is about the enforcement of the law, which is not a political issue, but a legal one, of tremendous importance for a democratic state."

The government decision accepting the report was slightly amended at the request of ministers Shaul Mofaz, Benjamin Netanyahu, Limor Livnat and Danny Naveh.

The decision by the government says it commits itself to evacuating the 24 outposts established since March 2001, but there is no date or timetable set for the evacuation.

On the other hand, the government gave the defense establishment 30 days to correct the security regulations in the West Bank, to broaden the authority of the courts to try Israelis arrested for such violations as moving a mobile home without permission into the territories. The attorney general was authorized to consider legal steps against anyone involved in the illegal construction in the territories.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the evacuation of the illegal outposts "is one of the commitments Israel took upon itself in in the framework of the road map." Communications Minister Itzik, who voted against accepting the government decision, said there was no need for a ministerial committee and that the government should have ordered the immediate evacuation of the outposts.

Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the rule of law regarding illegal construction should be applied equally throughout the country, "so not only should action be taken against the illegal outposts in the West Bank, but also against illegal construction in East Jerusalem, the Negev and the Galilee."

Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz said the ministerial committee should not delay the immediate execution of the Sasson report. He said the government should move immediately to remove the outposts, "lest it appear that the government is not demonstrating the appropriate determination in dealing with the report's findings."

Housing Minister Isaac Herzog promised his ministry would go through the report with a fine-tooth comb and apply all its recommendations, presumably meaning an end to Housing Ministry financing of outposts, as the report said had happened in the past.

Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon called for the dismantling of the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization, but Sharon rejected that recommendation, which appeared in the Sasson report.

The Yesha Council, meanwhile, plans to issue a report that would parallel the Sasson report, in which the council says it will provide evidence of all the oral and written approvals the outposts were given. A statement issued by the council charged Sasson was motivated by political reasons to deviate from her original mandate for the legal examination of the outposts, and the Yesha Council promised it would prove that "all her legalism, as if there were legal problems in the decisions made by the authorities, will be proved to be a mistake."

Pinhas Wallerstein, the head of the Binyamin regional council, said he expects the ministers of interior and housing - both from Labor and both eager to see the report executed - to agree "that it is not possible to cut off the water and electricity to the outposts."