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Israeli “Justice” Min. plan would ‘launder’ illegal West Bank outposts

By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz Correspondent | 28 Aug 2006

A Justice Ministry proposal would “launder” several illegal outposts and even enable them to receive government funding, according to Attorney Talia Sasson. The proposal is to be discussed next Sunday by a ministerial committee on settlement outposts, and Sasson’s report on the matter was meant to serve as the basis for the committee’s work.

The proposal would also transfer most of the defense minister’s authority over the settlements to a six-member committee comprised of four Kadima ministers (the prime, justice, housing and interior ministers) and only two from Labor (the defense and agriculture ministers).

In a letter sent on July 10 to then-justice minister Haim Ramon, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and proposal author Malkiel Blass, Sasson said the proposal would “subvert the basic principles that underlie the outpost report.” It would indeed “change the situation, but in the opposite direction of [the report’s] original intention,” she wrote.

According to Sasson, the Justice Ministry proposal discards her list of illegal outposts and replaces it with a much smaller list prepared by the Defense Ministry. Moreover, she said, neither the proposal nor the Defense Ministry list offers any definition of what constitutes an illegal outpost.

Furthermore, she wrote, the proposal would allow “reasonable and immediately adjacent” expansions of existing settlements without any approval from the central government, meaning that only the approval of local or regional councils in the territories would be needed. That, she said, violates the principles of both security and proper administration.

Instead of reducing the government’s already limited control over construction in the territories, Sasson argued, this control should be expanded, such that any Israeli construction in the territories at all would require government approval.

By “laundering” certain outposts, she continued, the proposal sends a “grave message that breaking the law pays, criminals aren’t punished and ‘the rule of law’ is a phrase with no real meaning.” It also violates the government’s promises to U.S. President George W. Bush to evacuate all outposts built after March 1, 2001.
Additionally, she said, the proposal makes no mention of evacuating illegal outposts, thereby “undermining the principle of enforcing the law and allowing those who broke the law to benefit from doing so.”

Sasson also objected to the proposal’s call for establishing an “exceptions committee” with the power to approve state funding for illegal outposts. “In a state of law, it should not be possible to approve the investment of state resources in an illegal settlement,” she wrote.

Culture Minister Ophir Pines-Paz, a member of the ministerial committee, agrees with Sasson, and he urged the new justice minister, Meir Sheetrit, to consider an alternative proposal he drafted with Defense Minister Amir Peretz. The Justice Ministry proposal, said Pines-Paz, is insufficient to prevent a recurrence of widespread illegal building in the territories.

Peretz also objects to the Justice Ministry proposal, which would deprive his ministry of much of its current power over construction in the territories.

In response, a Justice Ministry spokesman said: “This is an initial draft of a working paper prepared as a platform for internal discussions, for the purpose of formulating a proposal for the ministerial committee on the outposts. The paper was sent to various parties, including attorney Sasson, in order to obtain their comments. These comments are now being studied and the matter will continue to be examined until the proposal to be presented to the committee is finalized.”

Nevertheless, the proposal the committee will discuss this Sunday does not appear significantly different from the one sent to Sasson two months ago.

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