On Thursday, November 17, incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to right-wing leader Itamar Ben Gvir’s proposal to carry out retrospective legalization of outposts in the occupied territories within 60 days of coming to power. Netanyahu’s Likud-led alliance won a decisive majority in the Israeli elections held on November 1 and he has been tasked by President Isaac Herzog with forming the next government. Ben Gvir is a key member of the coalition.
The decision was announced after a meeting between Netanyahu and Ben Gvir finalizing the formation of the government.
Outposts are smaller settlements mostly erected on Palestinian land in the occupied territories. They are usually built near existing settlements. There are over 700,000 Israelis living in over 250 settlements and over 100 outposts in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPTs). Though both settlements and outposts are illegal according to the international law on occupied territories, Israeli laws recognize settlements but consider outposts illegal.
Netanyahu and Ben Gvir also announced the decision to amend a 2005 law to legalize the Homesh and Yeshiva outposts in the occupied West Bank. The Homesh outpost is located on highway 60 used by both Palestinians and settlers and its legalization may further restrict the movement of Palestinians. An existing settlement there was dismantled by the Israeli state according to a law passed in 2005 under then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement plan.” It is now an Israeli military base.
While Israel officially considers outposts to be illegal, observers have pointed out that settlers there are provided full security and financial assistance by the Israeli government. The residents of the outposts have the same rights as any Israeli citizen.
The legalization of outposts will create further troubles for Palestinians, who are already facing obstacles with regard to their freedom of movement due to the apartheid walls, settlers-only roads, and numerous check points created to maintain the segregation between them and the illegal settlers.
Earlier this week, Benny Gantz, defense minister in the outgoing Yair Lapid government, announced the expansion of the apartheid wall in the OPTs by another 100 kilometers. The hundreds of kilometers-long wall was erected in 2001 in order to separate Palestinian residential areas and illegal settlements.
Due to the apartheid wall and other segregation measures, along with the existence of separate legal provisions for settlers and occupied Palestinians who live in the same area, international and Palestinian human rights groups have called Israel an apartheid regime.
Complete violation of UN resolution and international law
Despite the objections periodically raised by the UN and other countries, Israel has aggressively pursued the expansion of illegal settlements inside the OPTs. In 2016, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2334 which asks Israel to end the expansion of settlements, calling them a “flagrant violation of international law.”
However, Israel has continuously expanded illegal settlements. Netanyahu in 2019 announced a plan to annex a large part of the occupied West Bank where illegal settlements have been built. He failed to implement the plan at the time due to his election defeat and fierce Palestinian opposition.
The decision to legalize the outposts has long been supported by Ben Gvir and other extremists in Israel. Ben Gvir is himself a settler from Hebron in the southern occupied West Bank. He also shares an ideological affinity with Hilltop Youth, a terrorist settler group involved in several attacks and killings targeting Palestinians with the intention of expelling them from the OPTs and expanding the settlements.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) issued a formal statement opposing the move to legalize the outposts. It appealed to the world community to intervene to scrap the agreement. Presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the deal would “deepen the settlements and lead to the confiscation of more Palestinian land.” He also said that this will undermine “any possibility of achieving peace and establishing an independent Palestinian state on the basis of a two-state solution and in accordance with the UN resolution.”