State considering legalizing four West Bank outposts

Move is a slap in the face of US efforts to restart negotiations with Palestinians, Peace Now charges

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

The Givat Assaf outpost (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
The Givat Assaf outpost (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Israel is looking into legalizing four outposts in the West Bank, the state told the High Court of Justice in response to a petition by the anti-settlement organization Peace Now to have them demolished.

Peace Now said the announcement, made Tuesday, was “a slap to the face” to US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is trying to restart the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Instead of safeguarding the country’s interests, the defense minister is protecting the hilltop youth,” the group said in a statement.

Givat Assaf, one of the outposts, was scheduled for demolition over a year ago. The other three — Mitzpeh Lachish, Givat Haroeh and Maale Rehavam — have also been ruled as unauthorized settlements.

In February the state razed nine homes in Maale Rehavam, located south of Jerusalem in the Etzion bloc.

In the state’s answer it said that while Givat Assaf had originally been deemed problematic, the land on which it sat had since been purchased. The other three outposts, the state said, were located on state land, and not private Palestinian territory.

Peace Now’s petition demanded the demolition of a total of six outposts, including Ramat Gilad and Mitzpe Yitzhar. The state accepted the claim that one of the buildings in Mitzpe Yitzhar was built on private Palestinian land, and said it would evacuate and demolish it.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US won’t “accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.”

“Continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace,” she told reporters. “An independent Palestine must be viable, with real borders that have to be drawn.”

Psaki said it was important that both sides now take action to build trust and confidence.

“This is difficult,” Psaki said. “And we’re not underestimating that, the challenge of moving this path forward, but we’ve seen from both sides an openness to continuing the discussion.”

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