- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

BRUCHIN, West Bank — With its play- grounds, ident-ical houses and manicured flow- er beds, Bruch- in looks like any other placid Israeli suburb, except that Bruchin is not supposed to exist.

Bruchin is among the more than 100 West Bank outposts never officially authorized by the Israeli government. Israel’s repeated commitments to freeze settlement construction haven’t hampered Bruchin’s transformation from a cluster of trailers less than eight years ago into a thriving community of 380 people, girded by government-supplied roads, electricity and water.

“Normally, when you think of an outpost, you think of a water tower. This is a real town,” said Amishai Shav-Tal, one of Bruchin’s founders.

Unlike the full-blown settlements built in the face of international criticism, the outposts never went through the public process of gaining official government approval.

The outposts infuriate Palestinians, who see them as part of a plan to strengthen the Jewish grip on land that they want for an independent state.

With foreign countries focusing their disapproval on traditional settlements, Israel has managed to quietly plant many such outposts across the West Bank, say Palestinians, critics of Israel and even the settlers themselves.

“This is the game that the government always played with the settlers: ‘You will do it, we will turn a blind eye, and then one day when we are politically able to, we will legalize it,’ ” said Dror Etkes, who monitors settlements for the Israel’s Peace Now movement.

Tacit cooperation

Israel has not built an official settlement in more than a decade. When it started to approve a new one in late December, it quickly backed down under international condemnation.

Bruchin is a different story. Settler leaders and a former Cabinet minister say the government cooperated with every phase of its creation in the northern West Bank. In recent talks with the Defense Ministry, which must approve new settlement construction, the settlers demanded that Bruchin be the first in a string of developed outposts to be recognized as full settlements, which would ease fears that they could be forcibly removed.

As prime minister, Ehud Olmert started out with what looked like a campaign to tear down the unauthorized settlements and was elected on a platform calling for the country to abandon much of the West Bank and all but the largest settlement blocs.

Political troubles after last summer’s war in Lebanon have forced Mr. Olmert to put his plan on hold, and the settlers of Bruchin say they felt the change.

The army office in charge of the West Bank has issued orders to stop construction at the outpost and to demolish what has been built, spokesman Capt. Zidki Maman said without providing details. It also has prevented Bruchin from upgrading its electricity hookup, which the settlers complain is too small for the outpost’s growing population.

Meanwhile, Bruchin continues to thrive, with the government’s help.

On a sunny winter morning, soldiers sent by the government stand guard at Bruchin’s gates, while the squeals of children at play ring out from the outposts’ nine preschools, many of them funded by the Education Ministry.

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