Israel's Smotrich pushes to legalise over 60 West Bank settler outposts

Israel's Smotrich pushes to legalise over 60 West Bank settler outposts
Smotrich, a staunch settler activist, seeks to put dozens of outposts on the same legal footing as settlements in the occupied West Bank.
2 min read
22 April, 2024
Outposts in the West Bank are considered a violation of both Israeli and international law [Getty/file photo]

Far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich is pushing for the legalisation of 68 illegal outposts in the West Bank, Israeli media reported on Saturday, amid a surge in settler violence in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The extremist politician, who is also a minister at the defence ministry, reportedly sent orders to several ministries instructing them to start preparing public services in these outposts after they are "legalised", Israeli Channel 12 reported.

The move would make it one of the most significant settlement expansions in decades.

Outposts are makeshift encampments usually built on seized Palestinian private land without approval from the Israeli government and are illegal both Israeli and international law.

Outposts number at around 100 in the occupied West Bank, and are often authorised retroactively as settlements by Israeli courts.

Settlements, which number at over 140 as of January 2023, are built with Israeli government approval and are also a violation of international law.

Smotrich, a far-right settler activist with a history of racist incitement against Palestinians, has reportedly sent out letters to ministries requesting that outposts become on the same legal footing as settlements, in a bid for them to have public services, Channel 12 said.

Such services would include educational facilities, paved roads and medical services.

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Yesha, an umbrella organisation for settlement municipal authorities said the move would "right the injustice" of the lack of such services for thousands of illegal outpost residents.

The move would require approval from Israel's coalition government, which includes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right Likud Party as well as smaller more extreme parties, such as Smotrich's Religious Zionism bloc and Itamar Ben-Gvir's Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power).

Labour MP Gilad Kariv criticised the move, saying that Smotrich was "pouring his jerrycan of gasoline on Israel’s international legitimacy at a time when [the US] Congress is dealing with approving an unprecedented aid package for Israel".

Following Netanyahu's election in December 2022 and the subsequent formation of the coalition government, the Israeli premier handed over considerable powers to Smotrich to approve settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Amid Israel’s deadly war in the Gaza Strip which has killed at least 34,094 Palestinians, the construction of outposts has increased significantly.

Between October and January, at least 15 outposts were built for Israeli use , cutting through private Palestinian land and erecting barriers through it

Violence against Palestinians has also increased in the West Bank as Israel pounds the Gaza Strip, with settlers vandalising properties and assaulting and killing Palestinians. At least 485 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since the Gaza War broke out in October 2023.