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Israel legalizes three more West Bank settlement outposts

The decision, which is part of a broader settlement expansion, could pave the way for similar legalizations. Prospects for meaningful peace talks just grew dimmer.

By Staff writer / April 26, 2012

Boys walk with their bicycles on a pavement in the West Bank Jewish outpost of Brukhin on Tuesday, April 24, 2012. Israel had granted legal status to three settlement outposts, including Brukhin, in the occupied West Bank.

Nir Elias/Reuters

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The Israeli government followed through on a promise to authorize three illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank, in a move designed to mollify Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's settler constituency. It seems certain to make the prospects for meaningful peace talks with the Palestinians recede even further into the distance.

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The settler outposts of Rekhelim, Sansana, and Brukhin, which have existed without government authorization on the West Bank since the 1990s, were all given official approval, though they remain illegal under international law. Education Minister Gideon Saar from the prime minister's Likud Party said Netanyahu "gave 1,200 people and the people of Israel a holiday gift," a reference to Israeli independence celebrations this week.

Ben Lynfield wrote about the pending approvals for the Monitor a few weeks ago and said that the decision "would make them among the first new settlements authorized since the early days of the peace process in 1995 and could pave the way for further legalizations among the 96 outposts in the West Bank."

He wrote that the legalizations, along with a government promise to legally challenge court orders to evacuate smaller settlements, "amount to a significant strengthening of Israel's hold in the West Bank, the biblically resonant territory occupied in 1967, which Palestinians claim as the heartland of their future state. For Netanyahu, who heads a right-wing coalition with a strong pro-settler contingent, it was a delicate dance of one small step back and six larger steps forward for settlements."

The government has also this month authorized the construction of 980 more housing units in territory occupied since the 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Israeli officials have insisted during recent trips to the US that claims of settlement expansion under Mr. Netanyahu is exaggerated. But the view from Israel and the occupied West Bank tells a different story.

Netanyahu's government is also fighting an Israeli Supreme Court decision calling for the destruction of six government-subsidized apartment buildings in the illegal outpost of Ulpana. Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is expected to lodge an appeal of the court decision before next week, when the evacuation of the homes is currently scheduled.

The expanding de facto annexation of the West Bank, has a growing number of influential people both among the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas and from Israel, questioning the feasibility of the "two-state" solution to the conflict. Last week Mr. Abbas sent a letter to Netanyahu demanding an end to settlement expansion and an Israeli acceptance of pre-1967 borders as the basis of a settlement as preconditions for peace talks. Those conditions are similar to the position of both the Obama Administration and past US governments.

Israel dismissed the letter, reiterating that talks should have no preconditions attached. Now, the relationship between PA President Abbas and his Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who appears to favor a tougher line, appears to be breaking down. The US State Department has responded to the new settlements as "not helpful."

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