Netanyahu backs off dismantling illegal outposts
The Supreme Court's order to remove an illegal outpost in Beit El (West Bank) is ignored after right-wingers threaten to leave the cabinet. Now the issue will be how to approve the unauthorised outposts retroactively.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews/ Agencies) - In order to save his government, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has decided to postpone the demolition of an unauthorised settler outpost in Beit El (West Bank) as ordered by Israel's Supreme Court. Initially, he had backed its removal and agreed to tighter control on illegal settlements. Now, in order to appease the more rightwing elements in his Likud party, he has set up a ministerial committee with Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Justice Minister Moshe Yaalon, and Science Minister Benny Begin to seek legal solutions to contested settlement projects.

Last Friday, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the outpost at Beit El had to be dismantled because it was built on private Palestinian land using forged papers. According to the court ruling, the 30 families living in the outpost must leave by 1 May.

However, the decision has angered the more rightwing elements in the prime minister's party who have threatened to quit if the cabinet orders the outpost dismantled.

Sources in parliament said the government could approve unauthorised outposts retroactively.

In addition to the outpost in Beit El, the settlements of Bruchin, Sansana and Rechelim are at risk in the West Bank.

Hagit Ofran, an expert with Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now, said the debate shows that ministers are trying to renege on the government's pledge to the Supreme Court. "This internal debate within the government proves the fact that it is trying not to apply the court order," she said.

Since he was elected, Netanyahu has had to rely on the support of the most rightwing fringes in Israeli politics. To stay in power, he has pledged an expansion in settlements, which would further undermine the West Bank's territorial integrity and de facto preventing the creation of a Palestinian state. Currently, half a million Israeli settlers live in the West Bank.

Despite criticism from the United Nations and the international community, Israel's Housing Ministry recently issued tenders for 1,121 housing units in three settlements in Palestinian territory.

Of that number, 872 are to be built in Har Homa, a contentious settlement in the southern part of Arab East Jerusalem, which separates the holy city from the town of Bethlehem.

Another 180 are to be built in Givat Zeev, just to the north of Jerusalem in the West Bank, while the remaining 69 are to be built in Katzrin in the occupied Golan Heights.