Israeli Minister Announces Push to Legalize West Bank Outposts, but Later Walks It Back

After Knesset speech, settlement affairs minister tells Haaretz he only aims to improve infrastructure for illegal outposts, the legal status of which remains under dispute

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The Mitzpe Yehuda outpost in February 2020.
The Mitzpe Yehuda outpost in February 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

Israel’s settlement affairs minister announced Wednesday in a Knesset speech that he and another cabinet minister plan to formulate a proposal for legalizing illegal outposts in the West Bank “in the coming weeks,” but later admitted to Haaretz that such proposal would principally aim to improve infrastructure at Israeli outposts.

Tzachi Hanegbi, who heads the recently formed Settlement Affairs Ministry, said the move was being done in tandem with Minister in the Defense Ministry Michael Biton, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's knowledge. Kahol Lavan's Biton said that Hanegbi had not coordinated the statement with him and that it was inaccurate.

In a conversation with Haaretz, Hanegbi, of Netanyahu's Likud party, said that the proposal would not actually seek to legalize the outposts, a legally fraught issue, but rather provide them with improved infrastructure, namely electricity and internet.   

While outposts built on lands defined as state lands can be retroactively legalized by Israel, legalizing outposts built on private Palestinian lands is a legally disputed and challenging issue.

Yamina lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich welcomed Hanegbi's initial statement, but emphasized that “The proof is in the pudding.” He shared his “hope that this is not another practically meaningless decision," but rather one that will allow for true legalization and the outposts' formal recognition.  

The Kumi Ori outpost in 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Yesha Council of settlements also welcomed the statement: “This is great news for anyone for whom Israeli settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley are close to their heart.”

According to Peace Now, an Israeli NGO monitoring settlement activity, there are 124 outposts – that is, settlements constructed without government approvals or permits. Over the years, the state retroactively legalized some of these outposts by granting them building permits or redefining them as satellite neighborhoods of existing settlements.

In recent months, a new public campaign to legalize outposts has emerged under the banner "Young Settlement," with outpost residents complaining about the lack of basic services, including the internet, and calling on the government to "regulate" them.

In June, in an 8-1 ruling, the High Court of Justice struck down a land-grab law that would have legalized the status of settlements partially built on Palestinian lands, finding it unconstitutional and ordering that it be repealed. That law, the Law for the Regularization of Settlement in Judea and Samaria, was passed in February 2017, but essentially frozen from the start pending the High Court's ruling.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Esther Hayut said that the law "seeks to retroactively legalize illegal acts perpetrated by a specific population in the region whilst harming the rights of another."

Justice Noam Sohlberg, who was the only justice out of the nine who voted against repealing the law, expressed his concern that the decision would not be beneficial "not to the settlers, not even the landowners. Nobody will benefit from it. The land and buildings that the legislature sought to regulate, at least most of it, would therefore remain in their desolation."

However, Sohlberg noted that the encouragement and support by government authorities for illegal construction in the region, for years, "is not for the glory of the State of Israel. In any case, as reprehensible as we may find this conduct to be, it will not change the fact that this involvement over the years has created a reality, in a very broad scope, that cannot be ignored."

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