Israel to legalize West Bank outpost, mulling more construction
REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- After weeks of negotiating, Israeli authorities and settler leaders have reached an agreement to relocate and grant legal approval to a Jewish outpost in the West Bank.
The government made a commitment to the Supreme Court to dismantle Ramat Gilad, a small outpost built largely on privately owned Palestinian land, by the end of the year. But officials negotiated with the settler leadership for a voluntary evacuation rather than a forced eviction, which many feared would turn into a high-profile scuffle.
According to Israeli media, the agreement will allow the removal of five residential trailers and a few additional structures, relocating them a few dozen yards to land classified as state-owned. The move will legalize the outpost as an approved neighborhood of nearby Karnei Shomron, a settlement built in the mid-1970s with the government's blessing.
A couple of trailers will remain at the current site of Ramat Gilad while the status of the land where they sit is decided.
Much of the recent flare-up of trouble by right-wing Jewish militants in the West Bank is attributed to ongoing legal proceedings concerning a number of outposts the government promised to remove after conceding they were built on privately owned Palestinian land without permission. Politicians have tried to counter the government's action with legislation, still under consideration.
Peace Now, an anti-settlement group whose petitions have prodded the process along, on Wednesday rejected the agreement. Speaking on Israeli radio, organization official Yariv Oppenheimer called the accord a "government capitulation to the settlers, who have proved once again they make the facts on the ground."
Separately, local media reported that the Jerusalem municipality is advancing a plan to convert a hotel located in Gilo, a large Jewish neighborhood built on land annexed to the city after the 1967 Middle East War, to a residential complex of more than 100 apartments.
A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the move. According to the Palestinian news agency WAFA, Nabil abu Rudaineh stressed that negotiations with Israel would not resume without a complete halt to all settlement activity.
Rudaineh urged the so-called Mideast quartet of mediators -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- to uphold their responsibilities in regard to the escalating settlement activities.
-- Batsheva Sobelman