In response to Peace Now’s petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice, the State informed the Court of a new policy according to which the outposts built on Palestinian private land will be evacuated and the other outposts will be legalized. The petition demanded that the State enforce its own orders and evacuate 6 illegal outposts that received evacuation orders already in 2004. As for the outposts of the specific petition the State declared that those on private lands will be evicted by the end of this year.
The outposts in question in the Peace Now petition are:
Givat Assaf – an outpost consisting of 30 structures built entirely on private land
Haroeh – an outpost consisting of 26 structures, 5 of which are on private land
Ramat Gilad – an outpost consisting of 15 structures, 8 of which are on private land
Mizpe Yizhar – an outpost of 7 structures, 2 of which are on private lands
Maaleh Rehavam – an outposts of 26 structures, 2 of which are on private land
Mitzpe Lachish – an outpost of 14 structures, none of which are on private lands.
In addition to those outposts, there are at least another 64 outposts that are fully or partially on private lands, but the current declaration does not specify a time table for their evacuation.
(1) Depending on the degree to which the government of Israel exploits its total control to declare new areas of the West Bank to be “State Land,” this policy could lead to the post-facto legalization of dozens of outposts – almost doubling the number of “legal” settlements with a single decision.
(2) This new policy is tantamount to the government of Israel saying that the rule of law has no meaning when it comes to the settlers. It represents a naked attempt to remove the question of legality from the outposts issue and turn it into one related only to the “technicality” of whether the government of Israel has or can lay claim to the affected land. From the outset of the outposts’ debate, it has been recognized that the fundamental problem with outposts is that they are illegal even under Israeli law, established by the settlers without any required legal approvals, permits, etc. As such, they represent a direct challenge to the rule of law. This was the conclusion of the Sasson Report. Based on their unquestioned illegality, the simple fact is that under Israeli law, the outposts must be removed.
(3) This new policy is a clear abrogation of Israel’s freely-taken obligations under the Roadmap (2003). Under the Roadmap, Israel agreed to remove all outposts established after March 2001. According to Peace Now's count, this requires the removal of 45 settlement outpost. According to the Ministry of Defense, it requires the removal of 26 outposts. The Roadmap obligation does not distinguish between outposts built on private land versus public land. The Roadmap obligation is founded in the Israel’s longstanding commitment to “no new settlements” (the March 2001 date was selected as a cut-off not because other outposts were less legally egregious, but because then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not believe he should be held accountable for outposts established under someone else’s authority. The fact that the person in authority during the establishment of the other outposts was Ehud Barak is an added irony today).
(4) This new policy opens the door to a new era of Israeli land confiscations in the West Bank. As noted in Peace Now’s recent analysis, there are at least 70 outposts that are fully or partly on private land. Of these, 16 are fully on private land and 54 are partially on private land. Of the 16, 11 are on land which is fully registered as private. See here the full list. However, from the comments coming out of the Government of Israel it appears clear that Prime Minister Netanyahu is seeking to play games with the distinction between registered and unregistered private land. This strategy will enable Israel to legalize many outposts by post-facto declaring the land they are on to be “State Land.” It will also enable Israel to legalize parts of outposts that are not on private land, permitting the outpost to remain with only certain structures removed.
(5) This new policy – by making outposts not a legal issue but a land ownership issue – lends itself a “solution” where those structures in the outpost that are on private lands will be moved a few meters and be relocated on "State Land", thus paving the way to legalize almost all of the outposts.