PM orders 12 illegal outposts be hooked up to power grid, 8 days before election

Netanyahu’s office says wildcat West Bank communities chosen were built for security purposes with at least partial state backing, are in process of being legalized

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

A settler's house in the outpost of Esh Kodesh in the West Bank, on July 20, 2015.(Photo by Garrett Mills/Flash 90)
A settler's house in the outpost of Esh Kodesh in the West Bank, on July 20, 2015.(Photo by Garrett Mills/Flash 90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Sunday ordered that 12 illegal outposts in the West Bank be connected to the state’s official power grid in the premier’s latest gesture to settlers just eight days before the March 2 elections.

Director-General of the Prime Minister’s Office, Ronen Peretz, wrote in a letter to the Defense Ministry’s adviser on settlement affairs, Avi Roeh, that the dozen wildcat hilltop communities handpicked for the upgrade “were established many years ago on [what is considered] state land, often times with the government’s encouragement and out of security considerations.”

Peretz added that the government is also in the process of legalizing many of the over 100 outposts in the West Bank. But in the meantime, “these residents find themselves spending many hours without basic living conditions such as electricity and water,” the Peretz lamented.

“This harsh reality poses a real security threat when all outposts are in complete darkness during the night,” he said.

While the international community considers all settlement activity illegal, Israel differentiates between legal settlement homes built and permitted by the Defense Ministry on land owned by the state, and illegal outposts built without necessary permits, sometimes on private Palestinian land.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during an inauguration ceremony of a new neighborhood in the Kiryat Arba settlement on February 23, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The outposts listed in Peretz’s letter were Nofei Nehemiah, Havat Yair, Hilltop 851, Maoz Zvi and Shaharit in the northern West Bank; Pnei Kedem, Tekoa D, Esh Kodesh and Achiya in the central West Bank; and Asahel in the southern West Bank.

Until now, these small communities — mostly several dozen families each — have typically received electricity from generators wired to nearby settlements.

David Elhayani, who chairs the Yesha Council umbrella group of settler mayors, thanked Netanyahu in a statement, calling the directive “another step toward the legalization of all Israeli settlement” in the West Bank.

Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan similarly lauded the move, but called on the prime minister to not forget the dozens of remaining outposts which remain without a stable source of power, such as Havat Gilad. The cabinet voted to legalize the northern West Bank wildcat community last year,  but that process has yet to be finalized, and the town remains disconnected from the power grid.

The West Bank outpost of Havat Gilad, January 10, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Sunday directive from Netanyahu was the latest gesture toward settlers and their supporters in the weeks ahead of the election in a bid to shore up support for his right-wing bloc.

Last week, Netanyahu announced that he had lifted restrictions against the construction of the controversial Givat Hamatos neighborhood in East Jerusalem, saying that 3,000 homes would be built for Jewish residents there, in addition to another 2,200 housing units for Jews in the nearby Har Homa neighborhood.

The announcement from Netanyahu came less than two weeks after the Housing Ministry began advancing a plan to build a massive Jewish neighborhood in an East Jerusalem area that appears to be earmarked in the Trump administration’s peace plan for a Palestinian tourism center.

Netanyahu on Sunday addressed a ceremony inaugurating a new neighborhood in the southern West Bank’s Kiryat Arba settlement. He boasted of having been deeply involved in the crafting of the Trump administration’s peace plan, which includes American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley as well as all settlements in the West Bank.

He confirmed that US members of a committee that will map out areas of the West Bank that Israel may annex as part of the outline were on their way to Israel.

“This plan came to fruition because I fought for it… I withstood pressures that no prime minister has ever faced,” Netanyahu said, adding that his ability to “influence American public opinion” made him a “tougher” prime minister than Israel’s founding father and first prime minister David Ben-Gurion.

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