A new illegal outpost is being constructed in the West Bank, a watchdog group said Saturday, the first since a government decision to curtail settlement building as a goodwill gesture to US President Donald Trump.
A statement from the NGO Peace Now said that construction has begun on a new outpost adjacent to the settlement of Adam, east of the Palestinian city of Ramallah.
According to the group, the new outpost consists of seven light structures, such as mobile homes, some of which are still under construction.
According to the Haaretz daily, police on Saturday ordered building in the new settlement stopped.
The settlement is being built without government approval, Peace Now said. The founding residents told the organization the high cost of living in Jerusalem drove them to seek more affordable housing in the West Bank, and that they were not motivated by political or religious ideology.
“Regardless of the reasoning behind the outpost residents, the political implication of the outpost are the same,” said Peace Now, which argues that continued settlement construction hampers the chances for a two-state peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
“What distinguishes this outpost from others is the settler leadership’s cynical exploitation of the economic situation of the new residents of the outpost, by granting them free land and enabling them to construct homes illegally, as long as it contributes to the settler goals of destroying the possibility of ever creating a Palestinian state,” Peace Now said.
There was no immediate reaction from the government, with the report coming out on Shabbat.
One outpost member told the Haaretz daily that the new secular community would also be open to Palestinian residents.
“I have four children and no money,” Assaf Mamman told the daily. “There’s a housing crisis in Jerusalem, it’s crowded. Here there’s space to build something from the ground up, a village for both Jews and Arabs.”
However, Peace Now said the claim that Palestinians would be able to live there appeared to be false.
“According to Peace Now’s field visits and research, with quite certainty, there are no such indications that this is true,” Peace Now said.
Some of the other settlers in the area disapprove of the new outpost.
“It’s an eyesore,” one Adam resident told Haaretz. “Some of us paid over a million shekels, and all of a sudden we see that there are people who are getting a dunam (1/4 acres) or two (of land) for free?”
Another Adam resident, who did not give his name, said that local residents were unhappy their new neighbors were secular, and were not committed to Israel’s settlement movement.
“These aren’t the [national religious] types who care and come here out of love for the land,” he said. “These people who are coming have no money, most of them are divorced, which is asking for trouble. They aren’t religious and they’re not here because of their ideology.”
The new outpost is being built just beyond the fence surrounding Adam, and unlike some illegally built West Bank settlements, it is not situated on private Palestinian land. The founders don’t have a building permit, but the Civil Administration has already approved general construction permits for the area surrounding Adam, making it difficult for the IDF to evict them.
The construction comes after Israel evacuated the illegal Amona outpost earlier in the year. Amona was built on private Palestinian land and the courts ruled it had to be evacuated. The government has since legislated a law that would allow settlements built on private land to be retroactively recognized with compensation given to the Palestinian owners. That law is being challenged in the High Court of Justice.
The new community could still be evacuated by the Binyamin Regional Council, but according to Haaretz, that would be unlikely as the council generally tolerates the building of illegal outposts in its jurisdiction.
Last month, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that any future Israeli construction in the West Bank would be limited to existing settlement boundaries or adjacent to them. However, if legal, security or topographical limitations do not allow adherence to those guidelines, new homes will be built outside the current settlement boundaries but as close as possible to them.
The specifics of the limitations were not immediately available, and it was not clear whether they constituted any significant change in policy beyond a general declaration of intent.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his ministers at the time the government would also prevent the construction of any new illegal outposts.
The Trump administration — which has held the position that settlements are not “an impediment to peace,” but at the same time do not “help to advance peace” — expressed approval of an Israeli decision to curtail settlement building to within existing settlement boundaries or, in most cases, adjacent to them.
“This is a very friendly administration and we need to be considerate of the president’s requests,” Netanyahu told the security cabinet in announcing the move.
The announcement came hours after the security cabinet approved the establishment of a new settlement in the West Bank for families evicted from the recently razed Amona outpost.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.