Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Tuesday the establishment of a new committee charged with finding ways to legalise settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land.
A statement from the premier’s office said he had “decided to form a committee to examine policy tools and principles of action, relating to construction with unregulated status in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).
“The committee will formulate recommendations for action on issues such as those that arise in various petitions,” the statement said.
The decision to set up a task force was taken after heavy pressure from the settler lobby and right-wing activists following the demolition in early September of three structures in the Migron outpost near Ramallah.
Further demolitions in another four outposts are expected to take place by the year’s end.
At a meeting of ministers from Netanyahu’s Likud party on Sunday, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat said the imminent demolition of some 160 settler homes was “not reasonable,” and called for a team to “examine the issue and offer solutions,” her office said.
“Our job is not to be bulldozers and demolish,” Livnat told the meeting.
Following her request, Netanyahu ordered cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser to deal with the issue, it said.
The decision to demolish Migron and other outposts built on private Palestinian land was taken in February when Netanyahu and three other ministers met Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.
At the meeting, they agreed to raze a number of outposts built on private land while at the same time working to retroactively legalise any illegal construction in both settlements and outposts built on state land.
According to a timetable submitted to the High Court, the government was to have demolished the Givat Asam outpost by the end of the year, as well as parts of three others — Givat HaRoeh, Ramat Gilad and Bnei Adam.
The issue of construction on private Palestinian land has been the subject of lengthy court battles, one of which saw the Supreme Court order the government in August to raze Migron by the end of March 2012.
Hagit Ofran, who works with the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now, said 70 outposts were built either partly or completely on private Palestinian land.
Ofran said she was “surprised” by the decision to set up a task force, which was most probably a move to “buy time” and stave off the upcoming round of outpost demolitions.
“I find it very hard to believe that they can get away with legalising such a land grab,” she said.
“What they might be able to do is buy time. Now they have deadlines because of all the (legal) petitions. If they can postpone this until the elections, they will.”
Danny Dayan, head of the Yesha Council of settlers, warned that if the demolitions went ahead, it would leave nearly 1,000 people homeless.
“The duty of the government, which is in the nationalist camp, is to stop this approaching demolition campaign which will throw us into storm, the end of which no-one can predict,” he said in a statement.
Israel considers settlement outposts built in the West Bank without government approval to be illegal, and often sends security personnel to demolish them. They usually consist of little more than a few trailers.
The international community considers all settlements built in the occupied West Bank, including annexed Arab east Jerusalem, to be illegal.