According to the Israeli daily Haaretz on Monday, the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has opened 65 new files on construction of illegal outposts adjacent to settlements in recent months.

 

A spokesperson for the Civil Administration expressed surprise at the media reports, but did not return calls to comment on the information.

 

Word of new construction came after the Israeli government voted on Sunday to adopt the recommendations of a report it commissioned on illegal outposts as mandated by the US backed road map to peace.  

 

The report - titled the Sasson Report - found that the government was complicit in the creation of outposts, both funding and encouraging their growth in violation of its own laws and international mandates. 

 

Sasson also noted there was no legal difference between the outposts established before and after March 2001. 

 

Commitment

 

The decision by the cabinet says it commits itself to evacuating the 24 outposts established since March 2001, but delayed action against them nonetheless. 

 

Israel's cabinet has committed
itself to evacuating settlements

No date or timetable was set for the evacuation, and the matter was referred to another ministerial committee for further study. 

 

The Cabinet did not address 81 other illegal outposts established prior to the March cut-off date.  

 

"The government spoke in two voices on the issue of the outposts. The government must take into its hands responsibility for what is happening in the outposts in the territories and not sit on the sidelines watching as the settlers do whatever they want, without anyone stopping them," said attorney Talia Sasson, commissioner of the report, in her summary to the cabinet.

 

Tel Aviv has repeatedly declared it would dismantle illegal outposts created since March of 2001 when Ariel Sharon was elected into office. Dismantling the outposts is required by the road map to peace backed by the UN, the US, the EU and Russia.

 

Means to dodge

 

The latest Israeli cabinet decision is thought to be a means to dodge the issue yet again, and circumvent Sasson's strongly-worded report, according to the Israeli group Peace Now. 

 

About 50 settlements were set up
after March 2001, says Peace Now

"They said that they nominated a committee which will check out how to apply recommendations of the report ... they didn't even speak about dismantling [the outposts]," said Dror Etkes, coordinator of the settlement watch project for the group. 

 

"It is only significant in the sense that it is obviously an attempt to bury the report," he told Aljazeera.net.

 

"In Israel, nominating committees is a nice diplomatic way to say 'we are not interested in dealing with something', so let's stick some people in an office, give them a salary, have them write a report until something happens and if it is too hard to be accomplished, we will nominate another committee to check out how valid it is.  

 

Important project

"This is how this country has been working for more than 50 years," he said, adding that he does not believe the question of outposts is one that settlers will seriously have to deal with anytime soon.

 

According to Peace Now, which says its most important ongoing project is its monitoring and protesting of illegal settlements, about 50 illegal settlement outposts were established after March 2001 - not 24. 

 

"It is only significant in the sense that it is obviously an attempt to bury the report"

Dror Etkes, settlement watch coordinator, Peace Now 

The group's findings are backed by field research and detailed aerial photographs

 

Since 1967, each Israeli government has invested significant resources in establishing and expanding settlements in the occupied territories, both in terms of area and population.

 

Some 400,000 Israelis live in the illegal settlements on the West Bank, including those established in East Jerusalem.

 

According to the Israeli human rights group B'tselem, all settlements, including outposts, are a violation of the 4th Geneva Convention. 

 

The group says that settlements were established on land taken from Palestinians, and have led to "a racist system that systematically oppresses Palestinians and violates their rights".