Ten years after the publication of Adv. Talya Sasson’s report on Israeli outposts in the West Bank, Yesh Din and the Rights Forum published a report entitled, Under the radar: the silent policy of transforming illegal outposts into official settlements. The report exposed a dramatic shift in Israeli policy regarding the establishment of new settlements and of illegal outposts in the West Bank.
The report revealed that as of 2011, alongside the official, well-known track for government approval and advancement of building plans in the settlements and their authorization by the government, Israel has been advancing a covert parallel track for construction and expansion of areas under its control in the West Bank. This is being done by retroactively authorizing dozens of outposts that were built illegally, some on private Palestinian land. As of publication of the report, a quarter of the outposts (25 out of 100) were approved or in the process of being approved.
Most of the unauthorized outposts were built in the period between the mid-1990s and the mid 2000s. The State of Israel enabled the building of outposts, funding their infrastructure and public buildings and providing them with protection. At the same time, Israel continues to declare before the Supreme Court that it intends to enforce the law and evacuate the unauthorized outposts according to the priorities it presented.
Over the years, Israel has also undertaken to fulfill its international obligations to freeze construction in the OPT and remove the illegal outposts – primarily as a result of the Road Map for Peace to end the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, proposed by the Quartet in April 2003. One of the Road Map’s principles was dismantling of all outposts built after March 2001. In practice the State has only evacuated a handful of outposts.
In 2008, the State declared to the High Court of Justice (HCJ 9051/05 Peace Now v. Minister of Defense et al) that it intends to implement the law and evacuate the outposts, in accordance with the priorities it presented. This position was, however, only implemented in a few cases. On the declarative level, the State’s position reflected a policy that viewed the outposts as a protracted violation of the law requiring action to be taken in order to be stopped. It also reflected the State’s recognition of its duty to protect Palestinians’ property rights, since outposts were built on their land.
The report Under the Radar addresses a shift in Israel’s official policy regarding illegal outposts since 2011. It appears that in recent years, Israel has undertaken a covert policy for establishing new settlements or expanding existing ones by retroactively authorizing outposts.
Between 2011 and publication of the report, 13 outposts were authorized, and their construction was retroactively authorized; four of these outposts then became independent settlements and nine others were authorized as neighborhoods within existing settlements, although in practice some of them still function as independent communities. As of publication of the report, 12 outposts were in various stages of the approval process, after the political echelon instructed to promote their authorization, even though they were built in contravention of Israeli law.
Settlements and outposts cause multi-dimensional violations of the human rights of Palestinians living in the West Bank, particularly those living in nearby villages. Tolerating the outposts and authorizing them means giving approval to continued, large scale harm to tens of thousands of Palestinians, including both physical injury and damage to their property. Thousands of Israeli civilians are rewarded by retroactive authorization of structures constructed illegally, and in many cases entailing violation of Palestinian rights, including land theft, violence and other offenses.