Israel has decided to make legal under Israeli law three settlement outposts in the West Bank, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office said in a statement on April 24. It said that a ministerial committee had decided to “formalize the status” of Bruchin and Rechelim, in the north of the West Bank, and Sansana, near Hebron in the south. In total the outposts are illegally inhabited by about 830 residents. The international community considers all settlements in the occupied West Bank to be illegal under international law and Israel considers settlement outposts built without government approval to be illegal or unauthorized. However, according to Peace Now, an Israeli group against settlements, the change of the three outposts’ status marks the first time since 1990 that the Israeli government has established a new settlement, and that the four-man committee did not have the authority to approve the change.
The sanction of the illegal outposts has obtained worldwide reactions. UN chief Ban Ki- Moon said on April 24 that he was “deeply troubled” by Israel’s decision, once again highlighting that the activity is illegal under international law:
“The Secretary-General is deeply troubled by the decision of the Government of Israel to formally approve three outposts in the West Bank,” Ban’s office said in a statement.
“The Secretary-General reiterates that all settlement activity is illegal under international law. It runs contrary to Israel’s obligations under the Road Map and repeated Quartet calls for the parties to refrain from provocations,” it said.
For years, Israel has promised its main ally, the United States, that it will remove dozens of outposts but has done little to fulfill the pledge. US State Department spokeswoman
Victoria Nuland reacted to the Israeli move by saying: “We don’t think this is helpful to the process. We don’t accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity.”
Among others, officials from the UK, France, Germany, Denmark and Norway have also criticized the Israeli move.
On April 25, Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security condemned the sanction as well, saying that she was “extremely concerned. ”Ashton called on Israel to reverse its decision.
Palestinians are awaiting a formal response from Netanyahu to a letter they sent last week in which President Mahmoud Abbas outlined the conditions for a meaningful peace process, including repeating his call for an end to all settlement activity. Peace talks have been frozen since 2010 over the issue.
Senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said that the settler outpost sanction was a response to President Abbas’ letter.
“As such, this sends a clear message to both the international community and to the Palestinians that Israel is more committed to land theft than peacemaking,” she said.
“It is time that the Quartet and international community go beyond statements and verbal condemnations and take concrete steps to curb Israel’s violations, including legal political and economic sanctions,” the PLO official added.
The PLO ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, condemned Israeli settlement activity in a series of letters to senior UN officials. The UN ambassador sent letters to the President of the Security Council and head of the General Assembly, criticizing ongoing settlement building.
“There have been confirmations by the UN Security Council and General Assembly, Human Rights Council and the Social and Economic Council on the illegality of all settlement activity in a number of resolutions which are still available, and we are still calling on Israel to respect and implement the resolutions,” Mansour said.
Saeb Erekat, also a PLO official, said that Palestinian leaders are examining ways to secure a resolution from the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlement building.
Simultaneously, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been trying to prevent the demolition of another illegal settlement, Ulpana, after a court found it was built on private Palestinian land. The Beit El settlement was built illegally, mostly on private Palestinian land, with construction dating back to the 1980s. On April 27 the Israeli government asked the Supreme Court to delay the eviction for another three months. Israel had promised the court it would evict the Ulpan neighborhood, by May 1.
On Monday, April 23, Israeli prison authorities announced that they have taken measures against some 1,300 Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike, denying them family visits and separating them from inmates not taking part in the protest. Now, more than a week after they began, the prisoners are still on hunger strike against the worsening conditions in Israeli prisons, for an end to Israel’s controversial policy of “administrative detention” and solitary confinement for prisoners, often for months at a time. The number of prisoners on hunger strike is increasing as female prisoners have announced that they too will go on a partial strike, refusing food for two days a week. The total amount of prisoners on strike is said to be about 2,300 and is expected to increase by a further 1000.
An Israeli military court on April 23 refused an appeal by long-term hunger-strikers Thaer Halahla and Bilal Diyab to end their detention without charge. According to their lawyer negotiations are more difficult now that over a thousand prisoners have joined the hunger strike, as Israeli authorities say they refuse to encourage others by agreeing not to renew the hunger-strikers’ administrative detention. The two have been without food for 60 days.
At a demonstration outside Israel’s Ofer detention center near Ramallah, four Palestinians were injured when clashes erupted on Thursday, April 26. Israeli forces fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at about 250 people who were demonstrating for the Palestinian detainees on hunger strike in Israeli prisons. Palestinians threw rocks back at the soldiers.
Late Tuesday, April 24, non-violence activist Bassem Tamimi was released on bail after spending 13 months in prison. He was detained by Israeli forces on March 24, 2011, and accused of organizing illegal demonstrations in the village, which holds weekly protests against seizure of their land by nearby Israeli settlement Halamish. Tamimi will not be able to return to his village, as bail conditions prescribe he remain inside the city of Ramallah; he is under house arrest between Thursday and Sunday.
In other news, Israeli authorities, on April 25, ordered villagers in Wadi Qana in the northern West Bank to uproot 1,070 of their own olive trees, a local official said. According to the owners the trees are five years old.
On April 23, Israeli forces demolished the Bedouin village Al-Araqib village for the 37th time. The Palestinian residents began to immediately rebuild the site, after forces left just a mosque and cemetery standing.
Settlers in the northern West Bank set up a roadblock and attacked a Nablus village on Thursday, April 26. The settlers blocked a main road and prevented Palestinian vehicles from passing through, causing a large traffic jam. Around 12 settlers also attacked the village of Urif in Nablus, clashing with local villagers. Witnesses said the Israeli army was present during the incident but fired tear gas at the villagers.