A report published Monday by a settlement watchdog group revealed that Israelis in the West Bank have established 32 new illegal outposts since 2012, with the majority built since Donald Trump entered the White House.
Scores of settlement outposts dot the West Bank, in addition to over 120 established settlements. Over time, outposts often grow into neighborhoods of nearby settlements or into full-fledged settlements of their own.
According to Peace Now, 18 of the outposts were established since Donald Trump took office in 2017. The other 14 were established under US president Barack Obama, following several years in which no outposts were recorded.
While Obama was a frequent critic of settlement building, the Trump administration has mostly refused to criticize building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, beyond calling settlements “unhelpful.”
Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt has gone as far as rejecting the internationally accepted “settlement” label put on Israeli communities established on land which Palestinians hope will one day serve as their state, saying he prefers to call them “neighborhoods and cities.”
Settler leaders have said they feel emboldened by the opportunity that a non-critical Trump administration presents.
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, often on private Palestinian land.
Peace Now found that the bulk of the outposts have been agricultural properties and said many of the outposts are publicly funded.
Other cases included the creation of educational institutions and tourist sites that receive funding from their respective government ministries.
“Most of the illegal construction is carried out in an organized manner by officials and with extensive funding from the public coffers,” it said.
Contrary to other wildcat outposts established primarily as housing tracts, agricultural communities require smaller investments in infrastructure and allow settlers to establish control of wider swathes of land for grazing and planting, blocking Palestinian access. The farms also include a minimal amount of built up structures, allowing them to fly under the radar of law enforcement.
“The presence of settlers with a flock of sheep is intended to disrupt the Palestinian shepherds in that area,” Peace Now wrote.
Settler groups claim that these communities are often built on state land and that without physical Israeli presence in those areas, Palestinians would illegally take them over themselves.
Peace Now said the government has retroactively authorized 15 outposts this year, and seeks to approve 35 more, as part of what it called a major expansion of West Bank settlements.
“Law enforcement authorities ignore the theft of the land and in effect abet this activity,” Peace Now said. “Settlers see this correctly as an incentive to build more outposts.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.