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2023 record high for illegal settlement construction, approval of outposts by Israel

August 9, 2023 at 2:19 pm

A Palestinian village is seen in the background behind houses at the West Bank Jewish settlement of Eli on January 1, 2017 [David Vaaknin for The Washington Post via Getty Images]

Israel’s far-right government has set an all-time record this year for approvals of illegal settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and for the legitimisation of illegal outposts, according to figures provided by the left-wing Israeli NGO, Peace Now.

Israel has endorsed 12,855 housing units for settlers throughout the occupied West Bank since January, revealed Peace Now, the highest number the group has recorded since it started tracking such activity in 2012.

Moreover, the government has legalised 22 illegal outposts. The group stated that within the initial seven months of this year, a greater number of outposts have been granted legal status than in the entirety of previous years.

It comes after the occupation authorities announced their intention to accelerate the approval process for settlement construction in June, in addition to giving Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich even more authority to approve expansions of illegal settlements.

Under international law, all settlements and outposts in the occupied territories are illegal. Israel, however, differentiates  between settlements, which are authorised, and outposts which are set up by settlers in the hope of gaining authorising in the future.

However, according to Peace Now, since the 1993 Oslo Accords, approximately 160 outposts have remained unevacuated, averaging around five per year. This tally has already been reached in the first half of 2023.

Oslo Accords, the 25th Anniversary - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Oslo Accords, the 25th Anniversary – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Last week, the appeal against the illegal West Bank outpost of Homesh, urging its evacuation to allow Palestinian landowners access to their land, was dismissed by Israel’s High Court of Justice.

Israeli settlements often begin life as illegal outposts. It is a colonial strategy practised by every settler colonial state in their takeover of land and territory belonging to the indigenous population. In the case of Homesh, the illegal outpost was established in 1978 on confiscated land belonging to Palestinian residents of the nearby village of Burqa. It’s one of the countless ways in which Israel has created facts on the ground and rubber-stamped its immoral and illegal settler-colonialism.

The Israeli NGO also revealed that Israel in June approved plans for over 5,700 more illegal Jewish residences in the occupied West Bank while retroactively legalising three outposts.

The decision included final approval for 818 new residences in illegal settlements such as Elkana, Revava, Givat Ze’ev, Carmel and Harmesh.

READ: Israel settlers protest building Palestinian homes in West Bank

Yoni Mizrahi, head of the settlement monitoring team at Peace Now, told the Times of Israel, that “Smotrich’s position allows him to operate in Area C of the West Bank in conditions similar to a de facto annexation. He manages to control the army’s activities as he wishes and sets up settlements throughout the West Bank. The longer he remains in the role, the more problematic the reality on the ground will become.”

“As the settlements draw closer to Palestinian towns and villages, especially the illegal outposts, the more the friction between the two populations we will see, and with it the violence,” he added. “Violence by settlers has always received the support of parts of the right-wing and the government.”

Estimates indicate about 700,000 illegal Israeli settlers live in roughly 300 illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.