Israel settlement freeze shields dismantling of illegal outposts
Israel told the Supreme Court that it would be too busy enforcing the new 10-month settlement freeze to enforce a long standing order to dismantle the illegal outposts of ideologically driven settlers.
Tel Aviv, Israel
The enforcement of an order to evacuate outposts â a step demanded by the US to help restart peace talks with the Palestinians â has been put off for years. Palestinians and Israeli peace groups have been challenging the delay in Israelâs Supreme Court, which requested from Israel a timetable for the demolitions.
The state replied last week that enforcing the 10-month freeze on new settlement building in the West Bank would require so much manpower that it canât dismantle unauthorized settler outposts right now.
âThe new situation requires postponement of other law enforcement activities,â Israelâs state attorney informed the court regarding a petition to implement evacuation orders against outposts with about 250 people. âThe political echelon is conducting a review of the influence on the freeze on previous demolition orders.â
Critics doubt sincerity of freeze
The statement is fueling concern that, despite public clashes with Jewish settlers over the partial freeze, the moratorium will prove to be little more than a public relations mirage.
âThe state doesnât really want to confront the settlers. They arenât serious about enforcing the law,â says Hagit Ofran, who petitioned Israelâs High Court against six unauthorized outposts on behalf of dovish group Peace Now. âYou can get away with the illegal construction. Thereâs a lot of doubt about the sincerity of enforcing the freeze.â
Netanyahuâs government drew additional fire this week after designating settlements with some 100,000 residents as âpreferredâ regions for public assistance. The move was dubbed by the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv as âdouble-talkâ on settlement expansion.
âWhen Netanyahu is being pressured to freeze the settlements, he has to find a way to ease on the pressure,â says Gideon Doron, a political science professor at Tel Aviv University. âFor the survival of the Likud as a party, he comes and says, that, âWhile I give you a slap in the face, Iâm also giving you some sweets.â "
Israel counters criticism
Government spokesperson Mark Regev said the government is serious about the freeze and that the settlements tapped for assistance would get subsidies for only social welfare rather than new construction.
But critics of Israelâs settlement policy point out that if the government doesnât take action against illegal building, the freeze will be rendered meaningless. For years, government officials have spoken of the need to enforce the law in unauthorized outposts, but have never actually made good on the promise in some two dozen settlements where about 2,000 highly ideological settlers live.
Even though the state has cleared several uninhabited outposts, Mr. Regev conceded that, âof course more remains to be done.â
Just the latest excuse
A decision to act against the illegal outposts has potentially grave consequences. It would likely spark worse clashes with settlers and would swiftly escalate political crisis with Netanyahuâs right-wing supporters. The state would also risk a crisis within the army from ideological soldiers who have threatened to refuse orders.
But Ofran says enough is enough.
âThey are putting on hold handling of illegal outposts until God knows,â she says. âThey have been making excuses every time. Now the excuse is the freeze.â
Who's moving into the West Bank? Read more here.