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Israeli Report Condemns Support for Settlement Outposts

by Steve Erlanger Friday, Mar. 11, 2005 at 5:29 AM

Withheld until now, the report was written under American pressure and finished in early January. It accuses the government of Mr. Sharon and previous Israeli governments of "blatant violations of the law" and complicity in helping settlers construct illegal outposts in violation of stated Israeli government policy.


March 9, 2005

Israeli Report Condemns Support for Settlement Outposts


ERUSALEM, March 8 - A long-awaited report on the Israeli government's support for illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank describes widespread state complicity, fraud and cynicism, illegal diversion of government funds and illegal seizure of private Palestinian land. The report was formally delivered to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Tuesday.

Withheld until now, the report was written under American pressure and finished in early January. It accuses the government of Mr. Sharon and previous Israeli governments of "blatant violations of the law" and complicity in helping settlers construct illegal outposts in violation of stated Israeli government policy.

The report describes almost a state within a state devoted to promoting illegal settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.

"No one seriously intends to enforce the law," says the report, written by Talia Sasson, a former chief state prosecutor. "It seems as if the violation of the law has become institutional and institutionalized."

"There is blatant violation of the law by certain state authorities, public authorities, regional councils" in the West Bank "and the settlers," Ms. Sasson wrote, according to excerpts published Tuesday by the Israeli daily Maariv. "Everything is done for appearance' sake, as if a regulated institutional establishment were acting within the confines of the law."

The conclusions of the report, which will be released in full on Wednesday, are no surprise, confirming accusations made for years by Peace Now, the dovish Israeli citizen's lobby, and less publicly by the United States Embassy.

Mr. Sharon commissioned the report last June after accusations that his government was not keeping its promises to Washington to freeze settlement activity and dismantle illegal settler outposts in the West Bank set up after March 2001.

At the time, the report was considered a delaying tactic, but its conclusions, however harsh, will give Mr. Sharon a solid pretext within Israel for dismantling at least some of the illegal outposts. He has argued to the Bush administration that his plan to dismantle all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip is so painful that he cannot get into a fight with settlers on the West Bank at the same time.

He has also insisted that the Palestinians complete their obligations to dismantle terrorist organizations under the international peace plan called the road map before Israel could even begin to complete its parallel obligations to freeze settlement activity and dismantle the illegal outposts, of which there are around 100, with at least 2,000 inhabitants.

At least 50 of those outposts date from after March 2001, when Mr. Sharon came to power, and should be dismantled under the peace plan, according to Peace Now. The government has said there are only 28 such outposts. The United Nations considers all Israeli settlements built beyond the 1949 armistice lines illegal.

Aides to Mr. Sharon said he would not comment on the report until he had read it. Raanan Gissin, a Sharon aide, said, "It will be studied carefully with the intention of implementing it, and it will be translated and given to the U.S. Embassy." The report was done "in coordination with the U.S. government to see how we could get to the bottom of this issue," Mr. Gissin said. "Corrections and adjustments have to be made."

Asked if there would be indictments, Mr. Gissin said: "If laws were broken, subject to the decision of the attorney general, indictments may be made. Israel is a country of the rule of law, and laws will be upheld."

According to Ms. Sasson's report, the laws have not been upheld for some time, including the entire period of Mr. Sharon's government.

The report outlines how the Housing and Construction Ministry, the settlement division of the semi-governmental World Zionist Organization, the Education Ministry and the Defense Ministry worked together to "systematically establish illegal settlement points," handing over millions of dollars to create the infrastructure for scores of settlements, according to the report.

Ms. Sasson is to hold a news conference on Wednesday to discuss the report. Requests to interview her over the last three months have been refused by Mr. Sharon's office.

Yariv Oppenheimer, the secretary general of Peace Now, said the Sasson report was misleading only because most of the roughly 100 outposts established without authorization were now "real settlements."

"What is even more ridiculous," he said, "is that during the period in which the report was being written, the outposts continued to strengthen, continued to grow and develop and become real settlements. The situation is very bleak."

Uri Ariel, a right-wing legislator, called on the attorney general "to investigate the extent to which the prime minister knew of, encouraged and participated." The right is angry with Mr. Sharon for his Gaza plan, Mr. Ariel said, adding, "There is no doubt that the office work relating to the outposts was carried out with the prime minister's knowledge and, in most cases, with his blessing."

Palestinian officials repeated their contention that Mr. Sharon's focus on Gaza is a pretext for continuing settlement activity in the West Bank. On Tuesday the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, called for an end to Israeli expansion in the West Bank and accused Israel of dragging its feet in fulfilling promises to hand over control of Palestinian cities.

Mr. Abbas met Tuesday evening with the Israeli defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, to discuss the transfer to Palestinians of responsibility for security in two West Bank cities, Jericho and Tulkarm, but no date was specified. The Israelis have complained that Mr. Abbas is not moving fast enough to crack down on terrorism and groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The latter group carried out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on Feb. 25 that killed five Israelis.

Mr. Abbas and Mr. Sharon have agreed on the transfer of security in five West Bank towns - Ramallah, Bethlehem, Qalqilya, Tulkarm and Jericho - but Israel delayed the transfer after the bombing, holding out for more Palestinian action to stop attacks against Israelis.

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