According to the report by the Israeli watchdog group Peace Now, permanent construction continues in at least 17 illegal outposts in the West Bank

 

Construction is also ongoing in six Gaza settlements, though they are slated for evacuation in a few months, the report found.

 

"Almost every outpost is in the process of expansion and construction," the report states, accusing the Israeli government of abetting the process.

 

"These activities go on day after day without any interference by the relevant authorities regarding the breaking of the law -especially by the civil authority. Without them turning a blind eye to the activities it would be impossible for the outposts to continue construction."

 

'Stop settlement expansion'

 

One new outpost has been established since the beginning of 2005 - Bnei Adam, or Adam East, northeast of Jerusalem, near the larger settlement of Adam.

 

Bush called on the Israelis to
remove settlement outpost

No outposts were dismantled during the same period, but one, Mitzpe Yitzhar, was re-established, the report states.

 

During his meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in late May, US President George Bush said that Israel must not take any actions that violated its roadmap obligations and that all settlement expansion on the West Bank must stop.

 

"Israel must remove unauthorised outposts and stop settlement expansion," he said.

 

But the Israeli Foreign Ministry denied any wrongdoing, describing the Peace Now report as "exaggerated" and insisting that all ongoing construction is taking place in existing settlements.

 

The settlements themselves are considered illegal by standards of international law.

 

"We have not built any new settlements since the conclusion of the Oslo Accords. Most of the buildings activity takes place in existing settlements and within the zoning map of these settlements," Lior Ben Dor, a spokesman of the Foreign Ministry, told Aljazeera.net.

 

The Sasson report

 

There are over 101 outposts in total, 50 of them established after March 2001, according to Peace Now, which backs its finding by field research and aerial photographs.

 

A report commissioned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also found his government was complicit in the creation of settlement outposts by funding and encouraging their growth.

 

The Sasson report, which was made public in March, said this activity was a violation of Israeli laws and international mandates. 

 

A letter from the Civil Administration to Peace Now dated 9 May confirmed that construction in outposts was taking place, adding that it was illegal and that the agency had issued demolition orders and orders to halt construction.

 

"There is illegal construction in the outposts you mentioned because no permits were issued for them. The Civil Administration is doing its best to enforce this law by issuing orders to stop work and orders to demolish the things that are being constructed, and also by calling the settlers for review in front of the committees," the letter stated.

 

Neither the Civil Administration nor the Israeli Ministry of Defence returned multiple calls by Aljazeera.net seeking comment. 

 

Government pledge?

 

Dor renewed his government's pledge to dismantle all illegal outposts, but only after the disengagement from Gaza is carried out.

 

Sasson Report: Continued
construction is a violation

"As for the illegal outposts, we have committed ourselves to dismantling all of them. Yes, we have been somewhat late in removing these outposts, but our government officials have pledged to the American administration to remove the outposts soon after the implementation of the disengagement plan in Gaza," Ben Dor said.

 

The Israeli government has repeatedly declared it would dismantle illegal outposts created since March 2001, when Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister, as required by the road map to peace backed by the UN, the US, the EU and Russia.

 

In March, the Israeli government voted to adopt the Sasson report's recommendations that the outposts be evacuated, though no timetable was set.

 

The matter was referred to a ministerial committee for study, and its conclusions are due next week. 

 

Doubts

 

Peace Now's Dror Etkes said he thinks little will be done.

 

"[Sasson] had all the conclusions inside her report, [and] they are very clear - illegal acts with public money. There is nothing to investigate here," said Etkes, coordinator of the Settlement Watch Project for the watchdog group.

 

"Its business as usual ... nothing has principally changed in the way Israel understands its responsibility," he said.

 

Attorney Talia Sasson, author of the government-mandated report, said there had been no change in the Israeli government's stance on outposts since she wrote her report.

 

"Since the report was submitted, nothing has happened ... there has been no operative decision and construction continues in the outposts," she said, speaking at a seminar on settlements organized by Ben-Gurion University on 5 June.

 

In 1996, the Israeli government articulated its commitment for the first time not to establish any new settlements. According to Peace Now, outposts are the loophole to this commitment, intended to help gradually create large settlement blocs on Palestinian land. 

 

Occupied Palestine

 

An "outpost" refers to any area of land in the occupied Palestinian territories, often adjacent to larger settlements, on which structures, such as caravans, tents or mobile homes are placed.

 

Some 50 outposts were built
since March 2001, the report says

Outpost settlers wish to see their lands become settlements in their own right.  Each outpost collects its own taxes, has its own secretariat and its own immigrant absorption committees, according to Peace Now.

 

About 400,000 Israelis live in the illegal settlements on the West Bank, including those established in occupied Arab 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".