A prominent West Bank settler leader who has been involved in illegal construction, was appointed on Thursday to lead an official panel tasked with finding ways to legalize unauthorized outposts in the West Bank.
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The appointment of Pinchas Wallerstein, a former head of the Yesha Council of settlements and the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, was announced by the Prime Minister’s Office in a statement issued on Thursday.
According to estimates, thousands of homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank were built illegally on both state and private Palestinian land.
The team, whose establishment the cabinet approved in May, is slated to begin is work in a few weeks’ time, the statement said. It described as “an experienced, principled man” who will contribute greatly to the settlement movement.
In an interview to the investigative television program “The Source” last year, Wallerstein admitted that he had lied to the authorities in order to advance setting up the Amona outpost, which was built on private Palestinian land and was later evacuated.
“We didn’t set it up as an archaeological site, OK?” he told Channel 10. “In our codes it’s clear that housing for workers is at first housing for workers, and religious workers need a minyan, and then a mikveh and a synagogue are needed. Yes, that’s the method we worked by at the time,” he said.
In 1988, Wallerstein was convicted of negligent homicide after being convicted, in a plea bargain, of the shooting death of a Palestinian teen who had thrown rocks at his car.
Wallerstein headed the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council for 28 years. In September the High Court of Justice castigated Wallerstein for advancing the construction of a sewage treatment facility on private Palestinian land near the West Bank settlement of Ofra in 2004, during his period as regional council head.
In 2007, at a meeting with the environmental protection minister, Wallerstein said explicitly that he had been aware the facility was to be built on private Palestinian land. His successor, Avi Roeh, later signed a document purported to be a building for the plant. In fact it was invalid, because the regional council had no jurisdiction over the site.
The state eventually reached an agreement with Wallerstein and Roeh, under which the two would avoid prosecution and pay a token fine amounting to a few hundred dollars. The High Court rejected a petition from Palestinians and the human rights organization against the deal, but harshly criticized the two settler officials’ conduct.
Justice Esther Hayut, who was appointed Supreme Court president on Thursday, wrote in the High Court’s verdict last year that grave considerations tipped the scales toward prosecuting Wallerstein and Roeh. In issuing verbal and written permits they knew to be invalid, they “ignored and demonstrated contempt for basic principles of the rule of law, causing a serious ongoing infringement of the petitioners’ property rights,” Hayut wrote.
She said the two men’s conduct was “tainted with a serious moral flaw.” Justice Daphne Barak-Erez wrote in the ruling: “Violating the law can never be seen as legitimate, even when it stems from ideological and other reasons that are not associated with personal benefits.”