- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Israel announced it would cut off funding for illegal settlement outposts and crack down on extremist squatters, but settler leaders vowed Monday to resist the order and accused the government of fanning hatred toward them.

The government decision Sunday to cut off funding was a new acknowledgment that Israel has been complicit in the development of dozens of unauthorized outposts throughout the West Bank, despite repeated pledges to the U.S. to dismantle them.

This ambivalence was on display Monday near the hilltop outpost of Migron north of Jerusalem. Israeli security forces tore down several shacks built months ago as an “outpost of an outpost.”

But army guards continued to protect Migron, which is linked to the electricity grid, has a paved access road and is home to more than 40 families. Immediately after the security forces left, about two dozen teens were rebuilding the shacks.

Settlers have been setting up outposts since the mid-1990s, after Israel said it would stop building new settlements and only expand existing ones. The outposts usually start with a few mobile homes, a water tank and a generator. They are designed to expand control over land and ultimately prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Israel tries to differentiate between its roughly 120 settlements, some of which have grown into small cities, and the outposts. But there is broad international consensus that all construction on captured territory is illegal.

Now there is also concern that the extremists among the nearly 300,000 West Bank settlers are becoming increasingly violent.

Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, told the Cabinet on Sunday that an Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians, would likely set off widespread clashes with settlers and possibly armed conflict. Any withdrawal would mean uprooting thousands of settlers from their homes.

The Cabinet approved a series of steps, including cracking down on settler vigilantes and halting “all direct or indirect financial support of illegal outposts and their infrastructure,” a statement said.

Government spokesman Mark Regev said the Cabinet formed a committee headed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and gave it two weeks to report back on what steps it had taken.

Israel never formally decided to support outposts, but an official 2005 report found that successive Israeli governments have helped build and expand the squatter camps in violation of promises to the U.S.

Dror Etkes, who has been leading a legal battle against outposts on behalf of the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din, said he does not think the government will halt its tacit support for the outposts.

“What matters is not the statements, but what happens on the ground, and everything on the ground is precisely the opposite,” Mr. Etkes said.

He said the government has spent tens of millions of dollars on security and infrastructure for the outposts, adding that most of the funds are funneled through settler-controlled local governments known as regional councils.

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