State taps settler leader to head body that legalizes outposts

State taps settler leader to head body that legalizes outposts

Former Yesha Council director Pinchas Wallerstein tasked with generating legal solutions to unauthorized West Bank construction

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Pinchas Wallerstein poses for a picture near the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, November 29, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Pinchas Wallerstein poses for a picture near the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, November 29, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Civil Service Commission appointed settler heavyweight Pinchas Wallerstein on Thursday to chair a new committee responsible for legalizing outposts in the West Bank.

Wallerstein, who served for 29 years as the chairman of the Binyamin Regional Council and two years as the director general of the Yesha Council settlement umbrella group, will lead the task force on reaching legal solutions for unauthorized Jewish construction in the West Bank.

According to the Peace Now settlement watchdog, roughly 100 outposts have been established beyond the Green Line without the government’s approval in the last three decades.

The committee was established based on a cabinet decision in the aftermath of the evacuation of the illegal Amona outpost in February, with the goal of avoiding such demolitions in the future.

The outpost in the central West Bank was razed after the High Court of Justice ruled that it had been built on private Palestinian land.

A new settlement outpost being constructed near the settlement of Adam, east of the West Bank city of Ramallah, seen on April 19, 2017. (courtesy/ Peace Now)

Speaking with The Times of Israel Thursday, Wallerstein said that he had not yet been made aware of his exact duties, but was honored by the appointment and looking forward to working on behalf of settlers in the West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Civil Service Commission’s appointment, saying Wallerstein is an “honorable person who will contribute a great deal to the settlement movement.”

The Yesha Council’s chief foreign envoy, Oded Revivi, lauded Netanyahu’s government for establishing the committee and said that Wallerstein was the proper figure to lead it. “Wallerstein is a man of action in the settlement world and is intimately familiar with the subject matter and the various constraints.”

Dror Etkes, of the Kerem Navot settlement watchdog, blasted the appointment. “In a normal, healthy society Mr Wallerstein, who is involved in countless number of criminal actions of land grab and dispossession, would likely be writing his memoir from jail right now; but in 2017…he is treated as a culture hero,” he said in a statement.

Wallerstein and the new committee will still be expected to work within the confines of the law, which he has been found to cross at times. Earlier this year, a group of Palestinian landowners submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice demanding that Wallerstein and Yesha Council chairman Avi Roeh be charged for their involvement in the establishment of an illegal outpost on private land. In her September response to the appeal, Judge Esther Hayut, who on Thursday was sworn in as chief justice, wrote a scathing critique of the settler leaders’ conduct in the affair.

“In their actions, which included the granting of building permits — both written and verbal —  without authority, Wallerstein and [Roeh] demonstrated contempt and disregard for the fundamental principles embodied in the rule of law and caused serious and prolonged damage to the property rights of the petitioners,” Hayut said.

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