Despite Netanyahu's Claims, Legalization of Illegal Settlement Not Discussed at Weekly Cabinet Meeting

PM tells Likud ministers that the plan was always to debate the legalizing of Havat Gilad at next week’s meeting

The illegal outpost of Havat Gilad in the West Bank.
\ Ilan Assayag

The legalization of the West Bank outpost of Havat Gilad was not discussed at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, despite previous declarations by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and various ministers that it would be moved forward.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman had initiated efforts to legalize the outpost following the murder of one of its residents, Rabbi Raziel Shevach, in a drive-by shooting attack on January 9.

At the start of the weekly Likud ministers’ meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said the delay was due to “tactical reasons.” He said it would be discussed next week, in coordination with Lieberman.

Netanyahu also told Likud ministers that those criticizing the delay were fully aware the issue was being dealt with next week, and that their criticism was being made now so they could present its discussion as a victory at a later stage.

Last week, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (both from the pro-settler Habayit Hayehudi party) published a joint statement urging Netanyahu to raise the matter after, they claimed, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit had approved the legalization.

The implications of a vote on a Lieberman-sponsored bill are unclear, since on the face of it the defense minister already has the authority to act on such a matter without a cabinet decision. However, the Defense Ministry says a decision is needed in order to legalize the settlement.

The bill to advance the legalization of Havat Gilad, presented by Lieberman shortly after Shevach’s murder, was vaguely worded. “The establishment of a new settlement should be promoted on Israeli owned-land in the Samaria area. The settlement will operate within the municipal auspices of the Shomron Regional Council, will operate as an independent settlement and will absorb, among others, residents now living on private land in the area.”

The defense minister’s office later added that the bill “authorizes the defense minister to task the relevant bodies with doing the groundwork required to examine the legal aspects involving the establishment of a permanent settlement, seeking a precise location to establish it, examine all the planning, environmental and infrastructure aspects, and promoting a master plan for the settlement in the authorized planning institutions.”

However, Israeli security agencies have said it would be impossible to legalize Havat Gilad in its current location, since most of the outpost’s buildings are on private Palestinian land – with the exception of a “relatively small area,” as one member of the security forces put it, which was purchased by the founder of the outpost, Moshe Zar, over a decade ago.

Records held by the Civil Administration – the Israeli body that operates in the West Bank – confirm that all of the land, except for the small area purchased by Zar, is privately owned by Palestinians.

Legalizing construction on that land would be not be possible, even if the recently passed law allowing for the expropriation of Palestinian land on which settlements or outposts were built in good faith or at the state’s instruction – now under review by the High Court of Justice – is not struck down.

Sources in the political and judicial systems say they expect the law to be struck down, among other reasons because Mendelblit has previously deemed the law unconstitutional.