Israeli Judicial Panel Backs Legalizing West Bank Outpostsإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
A government-appointed committee has recommended that Israel legalize dozens of unsanctioned West Bank settlement outposts, a member of the panel said Monday, in defiance of international opposition to settling on land the Palestinians want for their future state.
The panel of jurists, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, also concluded that the West Bank is not occupied territory and therefore Israel has the legal right to settle it, according to Alan Baker, one of the committee members.
The panel's conclusions are non-binding, but they could give the government a pretext to recognize the outposts as legitimate and deflect court challenges designed to tear some down. The findings also clash with the Palestinians' and international community's view that Jewish settlement of the West Bank, which Israel captured in 1967, is illegitimate and an obstacle to peace.
Palestinian spokesman Ghassan Khatib immediately denounced the conclusions.
"This is in complete contradiction with international law and with specific resolutions of the United Nations ... and in contradiction with the official policy of almost every single country in the world," Khatib said. "We also think that such positions contradict the international efforts to establish peace based on two states, one of them in the territories occupied in 1967."
Outposts are unsanctioned enclaves that Jewish settlers began erecting in the 1990s to sidestep Israel's commitment to stop building new settlements.
Although they skirted official approval procedures, government officials knew they were being built and supplied them with the infrastructure hookups and military protection given to sanctioned settlements. Dozens of outposts dot the West Bank, in addition to more than 120 full-fledged settlements.
Baker, a former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry who is now a fellow at a conservative think-tank, said the outposts were not authorized because of international pressure and urged their approval.
"Nothing here was inherently illegal," he said, adding that any Palestinian claims to owning lands where outposts stand should be referred to a court.
In a landmark study, former state prosecutor Talia Sasson counted more than 100 unsanctioned outposts in a 2005 report she prepared for former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a staunch champion of West Bank settlement. She said dozens were built on privately owned Palestinian land, which Israel considers illegal even as it allows settlement construction on other West Bank territory.
The Israeli government has flouted its commitment to the U.S. to tear down two dozen outposts built a decade ago. And in January, it ordered Sasson's report reviewed by the Levy committee, saying her leftist politics cast suspicion on her objectivity. After leaving the civil service, Sasson ran for a parliamentary seat as a member of the dovish Meretz party.
But the Levy committee is considered sympathetic to setters and its recommendation on legalizing the outposts was expected.
The committee also concluded Israel can settle the West Bank, which it never officially annexed. Baker said the area is not sovereign territory and therefore, "the actual act of settling the West Bank is not illegal."
Israel captured the West Bank, now home to some 2.5 million Palestinians, from Jordan. Jordan had annexed the West Bank in 1948 in a move not recognized by most of the international community, but renounced all claims to the territory in 1988.