Israel Okays Connecting Illegal West Bank Outposts to Power Grid

The plan, which would also hook up Palestinian communities to power and carve a path to legalization for both illegal Jewish outposts and Palestinian villages, ignited uproar among right-wing Israeli lawmakers

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The Illegal outpost of Avigayil in the West Bank, in 2021.
The Illegal outpost of Avigayil in the West Bank, in 2021.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Israel's Attorney General's Office has approved connecting illegal West Bank Jewish outposts that were built without Israeli government approval to the electricity grid, in a plan that would also give more weight to diplomatic considerations.

According to a legal opinion issued by Deputy Attorney General Carmit Yulis, only outposts that were built on land declared state-owned by Israel will be connected, thereby excluding outposts built on privately owned Palestinian land.

The opinion also states that equal consideration must be given to Palestinian communities, in accordance with international law, meaning that those in Area C – the area of the West Bank under full Israeli civil and military control – must also be connected to the grid. However, according to political sources, the number of Palestinian villages connected to the grid will be comparatively smaller as the number of outposts.

In recent weeks, there have been a series of meetings with Yulis and the deputy attorney general for international issues Roy Schondorf. Yulis wrote the final draft of the professional legal opinion in which she said there was a legal basis for connecting the Jewish outposts on state land as well as the Palestinian communities in Area C.

The plan gives the government more power in deciding on specific outposts. Unlike similar decision-making processes, this one gives the Foreign Ministry, too, an opportunity to present points of contentions during the consideration stage in regard to repercussions in the international arena.

Path to legalization

The outposts now slated to be hooked up to electricity are those that the government deems to have what has been called a “regulatory horizon,” meaning that they can be made legal according to Israeli law. Defense Ministry staff is now working on criteria based on which the outposts will be hooked up, but the list will also be subject to Justice Ministry approval.

According to international law, Palestinian villages in Area C cannot be discriminated against. Hooking up Palestinian villages that have not received planning approval will set them on the path of legalization as well.

Deputy Attorney General Yulis conditioned the approval to hook up Jewish outposts on state land upon doing the same for the unauthorized Palestinian villages.

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar issued a statement welcoming the legal opinion, which he said “makes it possible in principle to hook up young communities with a regulatory horizon to electricity.” The term young communities or young settlements is a term that has been used by the Israeli right wing in reference to unauthorized outposts.

“This involves an important step for Israeli citizens in the young communities and I hope that the entire process will be completed within a reasonable period of time, after Israeli governments in the past refrained from dealing with the subject,” said Sa’ar, the leader of the New Hope party.

Right-wing backlash

The heads of the Land of Israel caucus in the Knesset, Likud Knesset member Yoav Kisch and Orit Strock of the Religious Zionism party, called on Nir Orbach of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party not to support what they called Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s “deal involving ‘territory for electricity.’”

Following last week’s defection of Idit Silman of Yamina to the ranks of the opposition, Orbach demanded additional “right-wing steps” if he was not to do the same.

Kisch and Strock referred to the Palestinian communities that would be hooked up to electricity as “Abu Mazen outposts,” a reference to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and said such a move constitutes “active assistance for the Palestinian Authority’s plan to take over areas of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]” and “a dangerous step like no other.”

“The young communities, all of them and not just some
of them, should have been connected to electricity three and a half months ago, at the time of the Electricity Law, and without any connection to the Abu Mazen outposts. We will not let up and will continue to exert pressure until this just and elementary step is carried out.”

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