Media Reports: Minister Smotrich Ordered to Provide Services and Budgets to 68 Illegal Outposts

On April 20, 2024, reports in the media said that Minister Smotritch recently instructed various government ministries to initiate the provision of budgets and services to 68 illegal outposts in the West Bank. Currently, no further details have been published; however, according to Peace Now’s assessment, this instruction is the implementation of the Cabinet’s decision from February 2023 and of the coalition agreements.

From Peace Now’s understanding, this is in fact a “legalization bypass” route, according to which the various authorities will treat these illegal outposts as if they were legal for the purposes of budgets and services and refrain from enforcing the demolition orders in them, even if the legalization procedures for those outposts have not yet begun or been completed.

Peace Now: “As far as the Israeli government is concerned, more than a hundred thousand Israelis who were evacuated from their legal homes in the south and north of the country can wait, while a handful of settlers who built their homes illegally can qualify for budgets and benefits. This government’s sole concern is to prioritize the settler sector’s welfare while neglecting the burning reality, literally, in the West Bank.”

In the Cabinet decision from February 2023 on the legalization of 10 outposts, there was a section that dealt with the legalization of additional outposts. Among other things, the Prime Minister was authorized, in coordination with Ministers Galant and Smotritch:

“To define certain settlement points as sites that the government intends to take action to regulate (in this section: “Sites under Legalization”) […] c. To order the relevant parties to take … the necessary actions to connect to essential infrastructures, build essential public buildings, and build educational buildings in the Sites under Legalization … The local authorities and government ministries will work to provide municipal and other services at the Sites under Legalization.”

According to this, Minister Smotritch’s directive effectively establishes a ‘legalization bypass’ route, according to which even though the outposts are still illegal, the government will treat them as legal for budgeting, construction, and provision of services. This means that it will be possible to allocate government budgets for the construction of infrastructure (roads, sewage, preparation of plots for construction, and more), it will be possible to make an official connection to water and electricity, and even build public buildings such as educational buildings and more – even though it is an illegal outpost. Furthermore, enforcement and demolition procedures will not be carried out, allowing the outpost to continue growing and expanding.

This decision demands significant legal maneuvering. It appears that the legal advisers appointed by Smotritch to circumvent the legal adviser of the Civil Administration, as part of establishing the ‘Settlement Administration,’ are responsible for enabling this new directive.

According to international law, all settlements in the Occupied Territories are illegal. According to Israel’s laws and regulations, there are “legal” settlements, but the outposts, which were established without government approval and did not go through a planning procedure, are illegal and there are demolition orders against all the buildings in them. In this situation, the state or the local authority is not allowed to finance them or build buildings or infrastructure in them. In order to change this situation, about five years ago, MK Smotritch initiated a bill called “Localities and Neighborhoods in the Legalization Procedures” that allows funding for illegal outposts. The bill did not reach a vote in the Knesset, but since then members of the Knesset from the right submitted similar bills that are still on the Knesset’s table.

So far, the list of the 68 outposts destined to move to the status of “Sites under Legalization” has not been published and it is difficult to know which outposts are involved. A cautious assessment of Peace Now is that these are mostly relatively old outposts (as appears in the coalition agreement between Likud and Smotritch’s party (section 119), which referred to the legalization of outposts established before February 2011). At the same time, it’s plausible that the list also comprises outposts established later, like the Malachei Hashalom outpost, which was established in 2015 but the government has already decided on the intention to legalize it.