JERUSALEM — An opposition lawmaker and former general yesterday displayed photos of four West Bank outposts which, he charged, prove the government is deceiving Washington by expanding the enclaves instead of dismantling them.
The settlement watchdog group Peace Now said it has counted 53 outposts Israel is required to disband under the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan — or nearly twice the 28 named in a government list handed to the Americans last week.
“There is a clear-cut case of flagrant deception and a breaking of the promise to the Americans,” legislator Ephraim Sneh from the Labor Party told reporters in displaying the “before” and “after” photos.
U.S. officials in Israel declined comment. However, they have publicly rebuked Israel in recent weeks, a sign of growing impatience with its handling of the outposts, seen as seeds of future settlements.
Asaf Shariv, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the government’s list of 28 is accurate, and declined comment on the deception charge. Officials said last week that of the outposts on Israel’s list, fewer than half would be removed, and others were being “legalized.”
Yesterday, rabbis representing Jewish settlers accused the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service of inciting against them.
The Shin Bet chief, Avi Dichter, had told the Cabinet he was concerned about growing militancy among those opposed to the government’s planned evacuation of 8,000 settlers in 2005 as part of a withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.
Some settler leaders and rabbis in the West Bank and Gaza have portrayed settlement evacuation as a crime, implying that violent resistance is justified, while insisting they are not urging settlers to break the law.
In the latest such comment, Uri Elitzur, a settler leader and former top aide to ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told Israel Radio yesterday that to remove someone from his soil is “worse than rape.”
In his presentation on outposts, Mr. Sneh showed reporters photos that he said document the expansion in four enclaves. Photos taken in 2002 show a few mobile homes in each outpost; by 2004, they had permanent structures and paved roads.
The photos were taken by Peace Now, which said it plans to issue a new report on outpost expansion in the coming days.
Settlers began setting up outposts in 1998 to prevent the transfer of land to the Palestinians in interim peace deals. At the time, Mr. Sharon, then foreign minister, urged settlers to seize West Bank hilltops.
The road map plan, announced last year, requires Israel to dismantle outposts established after March 2001, when Mr. Sharon became prime minister. According to Peace Now, 53 outposts fall in that category, and another 44 were established before the cutoff date.
Israel has dismantled a few outposts, most of them uninhabited. Peace Now estimates that 1,500 settlers live in the enclaves.
Mr. Sneh, a former military governor of the West Bank, said the government has been channeling funds to the outposts it had promised to dismantle.
He said that it would be impossible to pave roads without government approval, and that much of the expansion occurred after Israel accepted the road map plan.
Israel’s state comptroller reported in May that the Housing Ministry had funneled nearly $6.5 million to illegal settlement construction in the West Bank between January 2000 to June 2003.
“There is no sign that anything has changed, before or after the road map,” said Peace Now spokesman Dror Etkes.
He said five outposts were established after the introduction of the road map plan, which envisions a Palestinian state by 2005.