JERUSALEM -- Two new outposts of settlers have gone up in the West Bank in recent months, according to a report by the Israeli anti-settlement organization Peace Now.
The organization noted that unlike the usual makeshift set-up of such outposts, the new ones come complete with paved roads and infrastructure connections to electricity and water, suggesting official support.
"They wouldn't have been able to do this without the authorities' assistance," Hagit Ofran of Peace Now told Israeli media. The group said these are the first outposts to enjoy such official backing since 2005.
Danny Dayan, chairman of the Yesha Council, the settler umbrella group, dismissed the report as "nonsense," saying neither outpost was new or illegal and that both were built inside existing settlement boundaries.
The Civil Administration, a branch of the Israeli military, was aware of the two locations and has begun procedures to stop work on the site and issue demolition orders, according to Israeli media.
The two outposts are named Nahalei Tal and Tzofim North. Nahalei Tal is near the settlement of Talmon, northwest of the Palestinian city of Ramallah; Tzofim North is near the settlement of Tzofim and the Palestinian city of Kalkilya.
Peace Now accused the government of making "a mockery of the rule of law" by allowing "a radical minority" to create facts on the ground and undermine a possible future agreement with the Palestinians. If the illegal outposts aren't removed, the group said it would consider petitioning Israel's Supreme Court.
Petitions recently led to the removal of two other unauthorized outposts, Migron and Ulpana hill. The Supreme Court rulings in those cases were politically inconvenient for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government, which supports Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
After failing to find legal ways to spare unauthorized outposts slated for eviction, Netanyahu appointed a committee to review legal issues regarding Israeli construction, settlement and outposts in the West Bank. The committee, headed by retired Justice Edmond Levy, dismissed the legal definition of the West Bank as "occupied territory" and recommended legalizing outposts and easing restrictions on construction.
Among other things, the committee recommended that construction within the boundaries of existing settlements would not require government or ministerial approval, only that of planning and zoning authorities.
The highly controversial report drew criticism from the U.S. State Department, which rejected "the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity." Netanyahu has not brought the report to the relevant ministerial committee or Cabinet, despite reports he would seek governmental approval of the findings. The attorney general is reluctant to back the report.
Settlers and political supporters are urging Netanyahu to adopt the Levy report. This pressure might increase as general elections near in January. In a bid to strengthen his right-wing ruling bloc, Netanyahu has joined forces with his hard-liner Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to run both parties on a joint list.
-- Batsheva Sobelman.
Map: Nahalei Tal, one of the new outposts, is located northwest of the Palestinian city of Ramallah. Credit: Peace Now.