Israel grants legal status to three West Bank outposts (REUTERS) By Jeffrey Heller JERSALEM, ISRAEL 04/24/12 5:49am EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - Israel said on Tuesday it had granted legal status to
three settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank, a move that
could shore up the governing coalition but which drew sharp
Israeli officials played down the decision taken by a ministerial
committee late on Monday and rejected accusations that the government
had effectively created the first new Jewish settlements for more
than 20 years.
The three outposts -- Bruchin, Sansana and Rechelim -- were built on
land Israel declared "state-owned" in the West Bank, an area it
captured in the 1967 war and which Palestinians want as part of a
"The panel decided to formalize the status of the three
communities ... which were established in the 1990s following the
decisions of past governments," said a statement issued by Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu´s office.
Most of the international community views all Jewish settlements in
the West Bank as illegal. However, Israel distinguishes between
settlements it has approved and the outposts which were never granted
Some 350 settlers live in Bruchin and 240 in Rechelim, both in the
northern part of the West Bank, while Sansana, with a population of
240, lies further to the south.
None has been granted final Israeli legal status as formal
communities and Netanyahu, though politically strong, has faced
questions from within his own Likud party and other right-wing
coalition partners about his commitment to settlers.
Israeli officials blamed unspecified technical issues for delaying
the status change.
Condemning the decision, Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said "Netanyahu has pushed
things to a dead end yet again".
Palestinians are awaiting a formal response from Netanyahu to a
letter they sent last week in which Abbas repeated his call for an
end to all settlement activity. Peace talks have been frozen since
2010 over the issue.
For years, Israel has promised its main ally, the United States, to
remove dozens of outposts, but has done little to fulfill the pledge
in the face of domestic political friction.
Netanyahu, however, drew fire from settlement leaders and Likud
members after police evicted Jewish settlers three weeks ago from a
building they said they had bought from a Palestinian in the West
Bank city of Hebron.
Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement group, said the change of the
three outposts´ status marked the first time since 1990 that the
Israeli government had established a new settlement, adding that the
four-man committee did not have the authority.
"The Netanyahu government is trying to deceive the public and hide
its true policy." it said in a statement. "This announcement is
against the Israeli interest of achieving peace and a two-state
In tandem with the decision on the three outposts, Netanyahu moved to
patch up differences within his coalition over the future of a
neighborhood threatened with demolition inside the West Bank
settlement of Beit El.
The dispute over who owns land on which five dwellings in the Ulpana
neighborhood have been built, has exposed a fault line in the cabinet
between members of Netanyahu´s Likud party and his more centrist
defense minister, Ehud Barak.
Israel has promised the Supreme Court, which is looking into
Palestinian claims of ownership to the land, to evict the settlers in
the disputed homes by May 1.
Barak, drawing criticism from several Likud ministers and
legislators, has said the government would stand by that pledge.
But in an interview with Army Radio on Tuesday, Netanyahu said the
government would seek a solution to the problem and ask the Supreme
Court to push back the May 1 deadline.
(Additional reporting by Naama Shilony in Jerusalem and Noah Browning
in Ramallah; editing by Crispian Balmer) (© Thomson Reuters 2012.
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