Israel: Netanyahu, Ben-Gvir to legalise West Bank illegal outposts

Israel’s Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir agree to legalise controversial evacuated settlement outposts in the West Bank

Incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised his far-right ally Itamar Ben Gvir that the West Bank illegal settler outposts will be legalised in the new government’s first 60 days

Israel’s Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu has agreed with far-right leader Ben-Gvir to enable Jewish settlers to return permanently to the evacuated illegal outpost of Homesh, in the north of the occupied West Bank.

Benjamin Netanyahu, currently assigned to form a new Israeli government after his coalition won elections earlier this month, has pledged to legalise dozens of illegal settler outposts in the occupied West Bank, after a meeting with far-right, controversial politician Itamar Ben-Gvir.

The two met Wednesday, where they agreed to retroactively legalise the outposts within 60 days of the government being sworn in, according to Israeli media.

Homesh was first evacuated in 2005 as part of an Israeli disengagement plan that pulled forces and settlers from the Gaza Strip and some West Bank settlements. Currently, settlers visit the area and operate the Homesh yeshiva, which serves as a de facto outpost.

The deal is part of coalition talks as Netanyahu attempts to form a government after his Likud party won a majority of seats in the 1 November election.

According to Haaretz, the amendment would take effect within 60 days of forming the government.

The Religious Zionism political alliance, which Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power is part of, is expected to play an influential role in the upcoming Israeli government.

Ben-Gvir had asked to be appointed as the minister of public security, while his ally Bezalel Smotrich asked to be the minister of defence.

Ben-Gvir, a settler in the Kiryat Araba illegal settlement, relied heavily on votes from the settler communities in the West Bank to help the alliance win 14 seats in the Knesset.

All Israeli settlements, including outposts, are illegal under international law. Israel however considers only outposts as illegal under its own laws, claiming that they were built by individual settlers or settler groups, and not by the government.

Ben-Gvir and Netanyahu also agreed to broaden the so-called Dromi Law – which legalises violent self-defence of property – to include the exemption of theft of arms and weapons from military bases, and to establish a yeshiva religious school for youth in the illegal outpost of Evyatar, whose settlers were also evicted last year.

Dozens of reports by monitoring and rights groups have shown that the Israeli government provides infrastructure, support and funding for settlers to build outposts. In addition, the Israeli government has over the past few years retroactively legalised many outposts and has passed legislation that makes it easier to do so.

Palestinians in Nablus say the plans are highly worrying, particularly given the already tense reality on the ground since last year, with an increase in settler attacks.

“Currently, there are near-daily settler attacks against Palestinians on the main road 60, and also on homes in Burqa,” continued Jararah, referring to the Palestinian village next to Homesh. “The presence of settlers in Homesh, and on the main road to Jenin, will lead to higher tensions.”

Jararah noted that due to the presence of settlements in the area, and increasing armed attacks on soldiers and settlers in the area since last year, the Israeli army has placed three checkpoints on the main road, along a distance of about 11 kilometres (6.8 miles), between the nearby settlement of Shavei Shomron, and the outpost of Homesh.

The outpost of Homesh was originally built in 1978 as an Israeli military base on private Palestinian land before it was handed over to settlers in 1980. It was then evacuated in 2005 as part of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement plan”.

Legalising Homesh would mean an amendment in the 2005 Disengagement Law, to allow Jews to resettle the outpost.

Despite the evacuation of the outpost, the Israeli army maintains a military base at the location, and settlers are allowed to access it, even while Palestinian landowners are forbidden from doing so.

In 2007, settlers established a religious school, or “yeshiva”, at the outpost. The school continues to operate, and settlers are allowed to camp, and hold events and protests at the outpost, but are not allowed to have permanent homes.

Israeli settlements are fortified Jewish-only housing complexes built on Palestinian land in violation of international law. More than 700,000 Israeli settlers live in at least 250 illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Ben-Gvir is notorious for his harassment of families in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah and for leading raids into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem.

Ghassan Daghlas, the head of monitoring of settlement activity in the northern occupied West Bank for the Palestinian Authority (PA), said he believes conditions will worsen for Palestinians across the West Bank under the new government.

“We expect this new government will make big decisions by legalising outposts, building settlements, annexing more land, creating contiguity between settlements. They also want to build more and expand settler roads to bypass Palestinian villages,” Daghlas stated.

In Burqa and the area of Homesh, he continued “we already live in a military zone, but this will lead to tension 24 hours a day”.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the Palestinian Authority’s spokesperson, said that Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir’s agreement “goes against international law”.

“These understandings strike at any possibility of achieving peace and establishing an independent Palestinian state, based on the principle of the two-state solution, and in accordance with the resolutions of international legitimacy,” Abu Rudeineh said.

He added that “the Palestinian people and their leaders adhere to the national position of the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 4 June, 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”