Israel unlikely to remove settlements soon

Position stated in wake of inquiry that says construction violates law

March 10, 2005|By COX NEWS SERVICE

JERUSALEM - Israel is unlikely to remove unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank soon despite a government inquiry that found "blatant violations of the law" in government cooperation with their construction.

An investigation concluded that for almost a decade, Israeli officials colluded with Israeli settlers in seizing land and building, developing and maintaining unauthorized Jewish enclaves in the Palestinian territories. The report documented alleged misappropriation of government funds and questionable real estate deals to establish the illegal outposts.

The 500-page report released yesterday comes at a sensitive period as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government seeks to build new relations with the Palestinians and to avoid provoking anger from Jewish settlers ahead of the planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

It also touches on a diplomatic issue between Israel and the Bush administration. The U.S.-sponsored "road map" peace plan embraced by Sharon in 2003 obligates Israel to dismantle the outposts. Sharon has not done so.

Former state prosecutor Talia Sasson, author of the report, said civil servants broke laws to help settlers build at least 105 illegal outposts since the mid-1990s. She called on the government to take "drastic" action to address the situation.

But a defense ministry official said that dismantling the outposts soon is unlikely for political and logistical reasons.

Israel's resources are being directed to the plan to withdraw troops and settlers from Gaza and part of the West Bank in the summer, Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim told Army Radio.

Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem in the 1967 war and soon began building Jewish settlements. There are 143 settlements on land that the United Nations and most of the world regards as disputed territory. Israeli law considers these settlements legal but differentiates between these and the outposts covered in the inquiry. Of the 105 settlement outposts cited in the report, 71 were set up before Sharon came to power in March 2001, and 24 were established after that date. The date of construction was unclear on 10 outposts, Sasson said.

Under the U.S.-backed road map, only outposts established after March 2001 were to be dismantled.

Between 2000 and 2004, Israel's Housing Ministry spent at least $16.5 million on illegal outposts, the report said.

Sasson documented multiple cases in which government officials transferred money to buy infrastructure for outposts, ignored land titles to build the outposts and abused their authority to bolster the status of the enclaves.

Sasson urged the attorney general to investigate her findings. She did not name targets of possible investigations.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office declined to comment on Sasson's recommendations. A statement from his office said the government would discuss the report Sunday at the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Sasson's findings substantiate long-standing complaints by Palestinians that Israel routinely seized control of land to increase the Jewish presence in the area Palestinians say is rightfully theirs.

About 250,000 settlers reside in the West Bank and Gaza Strip among more than 3.5 million Palestinians.

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