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Israeli legalizes three West Bank outposts

Israel legalized three West Bank outposts on Wednesday, after the head of the IDF’s Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, signed off on orders designating for the first time their municipal boundaries.

The process turns the outposts into recognized settlements — by the State of Israel, not the international community, which by and large views all settlements as illegal — with formal and legal municipal boundaries, albeit ones with illegally built homes and other structures, since they were constructed years ago without an approved masterplan or construction permits.

The three outposts, Avigayil, Asahel and Beit Hoglah, are on a list of nine such outposts approved for legalization by the government in February, as part of promises made to the far-right Religious Zionism party in coalition agreements.

The Civil Administration, a department of the Defense Ministry largely run by Religious Zionism leader Finance Minister Minister Bezalel Smotrich, drew up the municipal boundaries for the outposts.

Now that they have been approved by Fox, a masterplan designating the area for residential construction needs to be authorized by the Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Committee so that the existing illegally built structures can be retroactively approved and new buildings constructed.

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That process could still take several months.

Religious Zionism party chief Betzalel Smotrich (center) and party members at the settlement of Efrat in the West Bank, October 26, 2022. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

According to the Peace Now settlement watchdog, Avigayil has some 48 housing units on 85 dunams (21 acres) of land, two dunams of which are considered private Palestinian land.

Its new municipal boundaries greatly expand the outpost over a total of 202 dunams.

Asahel, also in the Mount Hebron Regional Council area, has 71 housing units and is built on 61 dunams of state land. Its new boundary jurisdiction will extend to a massive 880 dunams, making it 14 times bigger than its current size.

Beit Hoglah is located in the northern Dead Sea region of the West Bank and built on 37 dunams (15 acres) of state land. Since Beit Hoglah, established in 2001, was built illegally without government authorization, demolition orders were issued against all 22 housing units in the outpost, but those will be rescinded once the outpost is formally legalized.

The size of Beit Hoglah’s new boundary jurisdiction was not immediately available.

Smotrich said on Wednesday that signing off on the municipal boundaries of the illegal outposts will help kick off “immediate” planning for future development once they are formally legalized as settlements.

“Great things are happening in the settlements, and the nationalist government is advancing right-wing, Zionist and nationalist policies that see the development of the settlements in Judea and Samaria as an asset to the State of Israel,” said Smotrich, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.

Israeli settlers and their children in front of a caravan in illegal West Bank outpost of Avigail in the Hebron Hills, May 25, 2009. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“We promised the public a policy change and thank God we are progressing step by step,” he continued.

The minister thanked officials in the Civil Administration and the Settlement’s Directorate in the Defense Ministry, established at Smotrich’s demand, for advancing the measures needed to legalize the three settlements.

Peace Now slammed the development, alleging that it was part of what it called official efforts to annex the West Bank.

“The annexation has for a long time stopped creeping. The Israeli government led by Netanyahu and Smotrich has officially decided to promote with all its vigor the annexation of the West Bank. The decision of the commander of the IDF Central Command regarding the municipal boundaries is yet another step in this process. Not only is the State of Israel promoting more settlements, which do great damage to Israelis and Palestinians, it is also giving each settlement a huge and disproportionate area for its boundary jurisdiction,” the group said in a statement.

“The main goal of the regime and the messianic [judicial] coup is to enable such processes, and to import the reality of apartheid in the [West Bank] territories into the territory of the State of Israel,” it added. “Anyone who opposes the regime coup must oppose this process that will lead us to the end of the State of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state.”