Israel's outgoing Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit authorized the establishment of a settlement on the site of the cleared-out illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar, just days before the end of his tenure.
In a legal opinion released this week, Mendelblit determines that declaring Evyatar as state-owned can proceed.
Last June, an agreement between the settlers of Evyatar and the government saw the settlers being evicted but their houses remaining intact – and established that settlers could return if the land was deemed to be owned by the state.
A survey conducted by the Civil Administration, the body that implements Israeli policy in the West Bank, found that the area has 60 dunams (15 acres) that can be declared state-owned land. If the land is declared state-owned and government officials approved it, a settlement can be established there.
Once the land is declared state-owned, which Defense Minister Benny Gantz has the power to do, there are 45 days in which objections can be filed.
Gantz's office and the Justice Ministry refused to provide a statement on the matter.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said she welcomed Mendelblit's opinion, calling it "important for both Evyatar and for settlement as a whole."
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The settlers named the outpost Evyatar after an Israeli killed by a Palestinian in 2013, and say it was home to dozens of families. The deal to remove the settlers came just after Bennett's government was formed and appeared to have been struck as a way to avoid the media spectacle of troops forcibly dragging away Israeli families.
Palestinians in nearby villages say the outpost was built on their land and fear it will grow and merge with larger settlements nearby. Before the settlers left, Palestinians held near-daily protests which led to violent clashes with Israeli troops.
Rasan Daglas, the Palestinian Authority official who holds the settlements portfolio in the northern West Bank, said that "Israel is trying to establish facts on the ground and the timing of the announcement is not coincidental, a day after the publication of the Amnesty report."
He said the establishment of a settlement at the site was unacceptable, especially in Beita, a village near the outpost that held weekly protests against the return of the settlers in which several people were killed. "It's therefore clear that the popular struggle will intensify," Daglas said.
Meanwhile, an activist in Beita who is among the organizers of its protests told Haaretz that Mendelblit's opinion was extremely disappointing. "After months of a violent struggle in which we paid with blood, even the one who is supposed to be entrusted with the law approves an outpost on our land," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.