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PA calls on world to block Likud plan to formalize several illegal outposts

Ramallah says deal with far-right Otzma Yehudit is ‘sabotage’ to prospects of future peace based on the two-state principle

Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu seen after coalition talks at a hotel in Jerusalem on November 16, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu seen after coalition talks at a hotel in Jerusalem on November 16, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Palestinian Authority on Thursday called on the international community, and the Biden administration in particular, to pressure Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu to scrap an agreement with a far-right party to recognize numerous illegal West Bank outposts.

The move is part of the coalition deal between Netanyahu’s Likud and Otzma Yehudit to bring Itamar Ben Gvir’s faction into the next coalition government.

A public statement released by the PA Foreign Ministry condemned the agreement because it “entrenches settlement, leads to the take-over of more Palestinian land and legitimizes the outposts, especially in the north of the West Bank.”

Approximately 450,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank. Of those, the vast majority live in settlements that have been built with the prior authorization of the Israeli government and in accordance with its zoning laws. Israel views these settlements as legal, although their legality under international law is disputed.

A minority live in what are known as illegal outposts, housing at most a few hundred residents each and built without the consent of the Israeli government, but in practice often allowed by the state and receiving IDF protection.

Otzma Yehudit, which is one of the three far-right factions that make up the Religious Zionism alliance, has been pushing for the recognition of illegal outposts for several years. Religious Zionism has won significant support from settlers in the recent elections, and the party’s leader, Itamar Ben Gvir, who is a resident of the Jewish settlement of Hebron, has praised the Hilltop Youth, a group active in setting up illegal posts, calling them “the salt of the earth.”

The PA in its statement on Friday went on to say, “The terms of this agreement [between Likud and Otzma Yehudit] strike once again at the very foundations of any political efforts towards future negotiations and tops off Israel’s deliberate sabotage of any chance to make peace based on the principle of the two-state solution.”

“It undermines the efforts that have been made regionally and internationally to build trust between the Israeli and Palestinian sides,” the statement added.

Head of the Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks to the press after a meeting with President Isaac Herzog at the President’s residence in Jerusalem on November 10, 2022, as Herzog consulted political leaders on who to task with trying to form a new government. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Critics of the illegal outposts argue that these, and the settlements more broadly, harm the prospects for an eventual Palestinian state by slicing up Palestinian population centers in the West Bank into non-contiguous cantons.

The PA also said the legalization plan justifies its move to ask the UN General Assembly to request an opinion from the International Court of Justice on Israel’s military rule over the Palestinian Territories.

“An agreement like this lends further credibility to the Palestinian appeal to the ICJ and to the International Criminal Court, and also lends credibility to the international and American stance, which rejects [Jewish] settlement and urges the implementation of the two-state solution,” the PA said.

In 1978, the United States adopted the stance that Israeli settlements in the West Bank contravene international law. The Trump Administration in 2019 tempered that policy, declaring that the Israeli civilian settlements “are not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” and the Biden administration has not restored the previous US position.

The current administration has, however, denounced the expansion of settlements along with the retroactive legalization of outposts and publicly promised to bring up these issues in meetings with Israeli officials.

The United Nations, for its part, has condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank on several occasions, most recently in 2016 with Security Council Resolution 2334, which called on Israel to put a complete halt to the practice. The resolution condemned settlements as a “flagrant violation of international law.”

On that occasion, the United States — which normally uses its veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council to block the passage of resolutions targeting Israel — broke with precedent by abstaining, which allowed for Resolution 2334’s adoption by a vote of 14 for and 0 against.

In the PA’s statement on Friday, the organization also warned of consequences in the event of changes to the already uneasy status quo in Jerusalem and specifically at the al-Aqsa Mosque/Temple Mount compound.

Israeli security forces escort a group of religious Jews as they visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 31, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

“The blessed al-Aqsa Mosque is a red line… The attempts by Occupation authorities to change the religious and historical status quo [at al-Aqsa] are rejected the world over. Palestinians shall remain the custodians and the guardians [of al-Aqsa], no matter the cost in sacrifices.”

The Otzma Yehudit party has in the past called for the realization of full Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount and for Jews to be granted permission to pray at the site, Judaism’s holiest. Ben Gvir has stated his belief that “freedom of worship is a democratic principle.” However, he avoided highlighting the issue during the most recent campaign in a move that was reportedly coordinated with Netanyahu. He still did make several visits to the Temple Mount in the months leading up to the election.

Currently, Jews are allowed to visit the site under guard but not pray, though some quiet prayer has in recent years been increasingly allowed.

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