Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday urged Jewish settlers to act with restraint after 12 were arrested in a clash with police who were demolishing part of a wildcat settlement outpost.
But he reassured the settlement movement, from which his coalition government draws much of its support, that he was committed to building in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.
“Our main effort should be put into strengthening settlement, not in conflict with the law, and certainly not through conflict with one another,” he told MPs and ministers from his Likud party, in remarks sent out by his office.
The arrests occurred early on Monday as police and troops demolished three structures set up illegally in the Oz Zion outpost east of Ramallah, police spokeswoman Luba Samri told AFP, saying “dozens” of young settlers had tried to prevent the move by hurling rocks.
“A total of 12 suspects were arrested, six young women and six young men,” she said. Seven of them were minors.
Israel considers settlement outposts built without government approval to be illegal and often sends security personnel to demolish them. They usually consist of little more than a few trailers.
Last week Netanyahu’s inner cabinet decided to speed up construction of Jewish settlements in annexed, mainly Arab east Jerusalem and the West Bank, a day after the UN cultural organisation UNESCO accepted Palestine as a full member.
“That is the best way to bolster settlement: in places which will for sure remain in our territory, under our sovereignty, in any future agreement,” with the Palestinians, the premier told MPs.
The international community considers all settlements built in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, to be illegal.
Earlier, about 150 settlers and their supporters had demonstrated outside the Knesset to protest against plans to demolish some outposts built on private Palestinian land by the end of the year, police and settler officials said.
The demolitions were ordered by the Supreme Court in August following a legal battle waged by Palestinian land-owners.
Netanyahu defended the plans. “There are enough sites where we can and should build,” he said. “There is no need to build on ground that belongs to somebody.”
Among the outposts slated for removal are Givat Asaf, Amona as well as parts of Givat HaRoeh, Ramat Gilad and Bnei Adam.
Another outpost, Migron, is to be taken down by the end of March 2012.
Figures compiled by settlement watchdog Peace Now show 70 outposts were built either entirely or partially on private Palestinian land, although not all of them are currently being subjected to legal challenges.