The outposts are home to some 25,000 Israelis

Smotrich said pushing to start legalization process for 68 illegal West Bank outposts

Far-right lawmaker who has authority within Defense Ministry reportedly orders government bodies to lay groundwork for hooking up wildcat ‘young settlements’ to water, power grids

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, center, visits the illegal outpost of Evyatar, in the West Bank, on June 27, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)
Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, center, visits the illegal outpost of Evyatar, in the West Bank, on June 27, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also serves as a minister in the Defense Ministry, is pushing to begin the process of legalizing 68 illegal outposts in the West Bank in what would be one of the most dramatic expansions for the settlement movement in decades, Channel 12 News reported on Saturday night.

According to the report, Smotrich, who in his Defense Ministry role has broad authority over civilian issues in the West Bank, has sent instructions to several ministries telling them to begin preparations for providing a variety of public services to such outposts after they are legalized.

Yesha, the umbrella organization for settlement municipal authorities, welcomed the move, saying it would “right the injustice” of the lack of such services for thousands of residents of these outposts. Labor MK Gilad Kariv, by contrast, accused Smotrich of destroying Israel’s international legitimacy with the reported step.

The coalition agreement between the far-right, staunchly pro-settlement Religious Zionism party, which Smotrich heads, and the Likud party requires the government to legalize the so-called young settlement outposts and to hook them up to their own electricity and water supply.

“Young settlements” is a euphemism for some 70 illegal outposts in the West Bank, now home to around 25,000 people, which were established in the 1990s and early 2000s with the assistance of different ministries but without formal approval from the government, meaning they are illegal under Israeli law.

In February 2023, the government approved the legalization of nine illegal outposts, which eventually became 10, and at the same time made arrangements that Smotrich said at the time would facilitate the legalization of the rest.

View of the Israeli outpost of Mitzpe Dani in the West Bank on January 17, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Since illegal outposts cannot legally benefit from the public services provided to legal population centers, obtaining such services can be difficult for their residents, who often need to route electricity and water supply from adjacent, legal settlements.

According to Channel 12, Smotrich has sent letters to several ministries in recent weeks with instructions that would put these outposts on the same legal footing as regular settlements.

The minister’s letter also instructs these ministries to initiate preparations for educational institutions, paved roads, state-funded medical clinics, and other services.

Neither Smotrich’s office nor the Prime Minister’s Office responded to a request for comment.

The head of the Yesha organization, Shlomo Neeman, described the step as a “strategic process” for long-established outposts set up “at the bidding” of the state.

“This is important progress on the way to righting the injustice for thousands of residents who have been living in these settlements for years without proper infrastructure,” said Neeman.

“Especially these days, this is an important answer to those who don’t want to see us here,” he added, thanking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Smotrich “for leading the process.”

Kariv condemned the move, however, saying that Smotrich was “pouring his jerrycan of gasoline on Israel’s international legitimacy at a time when [the US] Congress is dealing with approving an unprecedented aid package for Israel.”

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