West Bank Outpost Ignites Political Battle
Israel's highest court has already ruled that the Jewish settler outpost of Ulpana in the West Bank was built on privately owned Palestinian land.
And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government had pledged to meet a May 1 deadline to dismantle the outpost, which has about 30 homes.
But over the weekend, Netanyahu established a special committee to see how permits could be provided to keep the outpost from being torn down.
This has touched off yet another controversy over settlements, one of the most contentious issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
More than 300,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements that have been authorized by the Israeli government but are not recognized by any other country.
In addition, there are dozens of relatively small outposts like Ulpana, which were not authorized by the Israeli government. Despite Israeli court rulings that they are illegal, only a small number have been torn down.
Demonstration In Favor Of The Outpost
Members of Netanyahu's Likud party converged on Ulpana and held a rally Sunday. The outpost is next to the larger settlement of Beit El, and both are near the Palestinian city of Ramallah.
"We are here to say loud and clear, that there is no reason to evacuate those houses, to demolish them," said Yariv Levine, a member of Parliament who belongs to Likud, which strongly supports settlement building.
"I don't think a Likud government can take the children out of their homes," Levine added. "I truly believe that in nine days, 10 years, 100 years, we will be able to see those houses standing as they are standing today and the government as stable as it was before."
Members of Netanyahu's coalition are threatening to bolt and potentially bring down his government if Ulpana and other outposts are demolished.
West Bank settlements were established after Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Mideast war, and the settlements have expanded under every Israeli government since then.
Settlement growth has been particularly robust under Netanyahu, says Yariv Oppenheimer of the anti-settlement group Peace Now.
"We are seeing a real increase in settlement activity," he says.
Oppenheimer says that under Netanyahu's government, some 45,000 new settlers moved to the West Bank over the past three years, a 16 percent increase.
In addition, Oppenheimer says, "The advocacy work that this government is doing for the settler cause is tremendous. They are marketing the settlements all over."
Palestinians Say Their Land Is Shrinking
Near the Palestinian village of Deir Jarir another outpost has been built on private Palestinian land. There is also a push by Israel to authorize that outpost as well.
"This land that was confiscated for the settlements is No. 1 agriculture land," says Joad Abu Hashish, a Palestinian who works in the village council. "It is the land that we used in order to sustain ourselves."
He says the village is already surrounded by expanding settlements and the outposts eat farther into boundaries of the village and the land owned by Palestinians.
Israelis have refused to acknowledge the authenticity of Palestinian documents showing they have ownership, he says.
Back in the Ulpana outpost, Israeli resident Alex Traiman says he can't believe his home might be destroyed.
"It's a beautiful apartment. The garden is fantastic," he says. "So if they say I'm going to knock your buildings down — I want to protect my family. I'm trying to provide a good life for my kids."
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Israel is making good on its vow to legalize a series of unauthorized settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank. Over the weekend, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu established a special committee to look into how to provide permits for the communities.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro visited one of the outposts called Ulpana and she filed this report.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Last year, the government promised the Israeli high court that this series of buildings in the Ulpana neighborhood in the settlement of Beit El would be dismantled because they were built on private Palestinian land. With the deadline of May 1st looming, though, the Israeli government is reneging on that after a wave of political pressure.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yesterday, in the most recent action, members of Netanyahu's party Likud converged on the Ulpana outpost and held a rally. It wasn't a large affair, but then it didn't have to be. Support for the settlements comes from within the government itself and doesn't rely on broad popular support.
YARIV LEVINE: We are here to say loud and clear that there is no reason to evacuate those houses, to demolish them.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yariv Levine is a Likud Knesset member. He says that this government stands behind the settlement project.
LEVINE: I don't think that the Likud government can take the children out of their houses. I truly believe that in 9, 10 days, 10 years, and 100 years, we will be able to see those houses standing as they are standing today and the government as stable as it was before.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The fate of settlement outposts has become one of the most contentious issues facing the Netanyahu government. The international community and the Palestinians regard all Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank as illegal. But Israel only deems the so-called outposts, which were not built with approval of the state as illicit. Previous Israeli governments have at least paid lip service to dismantling them. Not this one, says Yariv Oppenheimer from the anti-settlement group Peace Now.
YARIV OPPENHEIMER: We see a real increase of settlement activity, changes, outposts, new construction almost everywhere in the West Bank.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oppenheimer says that under the Netanyahu administration, some 45,000 new settlers have moved to the West Bank, a 16 percent increase. But that's not what makes this government different. Settlement expansion has been a feature of both right wing and left wing Israeli governments. But, says Oppenheimer...
OPPENHEIMER: The advocacy work that this government is doing for the settler cause is tremendous. They are marketing the settlements all over. And this is new and it's much more wide than it was before.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Near one Palestinian village, another cluster of illegal housing in an outpost has been built on private Palestinian land. There is a push by Israel to legalize that too. Palestinian Joad Abu Hashish works in the village council.
JOAD ABU HASHISH: (Through translator) This land that was confiscated for the settlements is number one agriculture land. It is the land that we used in order to sustain ourselves.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says the village is already surrounded by ever expanding settlements and the outposts eat further into what people use to survive. He said everyone here knows what land belongs to them and where the boundaries of our village lie. It's all well documented. Pretending the papers don't exist or aren't real is a lie they use to steal what we have, he says. Back in the Ulpana outpost, Israeli resident Alex Traiman says he can't believe his home might be destroyed because of this.
ALEX TRAIMAN: I don't live here because it's on the top of outpost. I got a job. It happens to be in this town. They were just finishing this building. I saw it. It's a beautiful apartment. The garden is fantastic. If they say I'm going to knock your buildings down, I want to protect my family. I'm trying to provide a good life for my kids.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.