A government-sponsored report shows Israeli settlers at more than 120 unauthorized hilltop outposts in the West Bank have received illegal state funding and services for 10 years, an Israeli newspaper said Sunday.
Asaf Shariv, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, refused to discuss the newspaper’s claims, saying only that the outpost report would be released in the coming weeks.
Under terms of the internationally backed “road map” peace plan, Israel must remove dozens of unauthorized West Bank outposts that began springing up in 1993 to protest the interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deal signed that year. So far only a few have been removed in operations that have often sparked clashes between settlers and government forces.
Palestinians contend all the Israeli settlements, and not just the outposts, are illegal encroachments on land they claim for a state.
The Yediot Ahronot newspaper quoted officials as saying the report, commissioned by Sharon in July, found that unauthorized outposts received government money and services even though they were never officially approved.
Almost all of Israel’s ministries were involved in assisting the outposts, despite the fact that a succession of attorneys general demanded a halt to the funding, Yediot said.
In May, Israel’s State Comptroller criticized the Housing Ministry for funneling nearly $6.5 million to the West Bank for illegal settlement construction in the previous three years — more than half of it to outposts that Israel agreed to remove under the road map.
The head of the Settlers Council, Bentsi Lieberman, rejected the report’s premise that the outposts were unauthorized. “All the communities were established with the approval and knowledge of the civil administration and the (military) central command,” he said.
The newspaper report was published just hours before more than 100,000 Jewish settlers and their backers demonstrated in Jerusalem against Sharon’s plan to evacuate all 21 Gaza settlements and four small West Bank settlements this summer.
Akiva Eldar, a political columnist for the newspaper Haaretz, said the illegalities and back-channel funding were known. But, he said, the report might make the United States realize Israel’s government won’t remove the outposts without significant pressure.
“We acted like this was a jungle,” said Eldar, author of a recent history on the outposts. “Had this happened inside the state of Israel, they would have gone to jail. There (in the West Bank) they got medals.”