Netanyahu pledges to legalize West Bank settler outposts if re-elected

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday pledged to authorize illegal West Bank settler outposts should the results of the March 23 election allow him to create a right-wing government, as he made his first campaign swing in Judea and Samaria for this fourth election cycle.

“I swear to you: If I create a strong right-wing government without a rotation, I will take care of the settlements and the authorization of the young settlements [outposts],” he said during a visit to the Givat Harel outpost in the West Bank’s Binyamin region.

Netanyahu spoke at an event that was closed to the media, and his remark was publicized by the Young Settlements Forum, whose representatives met with him at the outpost.

But he also spoke about his support for outpost authorization in a public speech posted on his Facebook page that he made both in Givat Harel and later in the Kfar Etzion settlement in Gush Etzion.

Netanyahu had already pledged to support the authorization of the outposts prior to the fall of the government.

At the time, he had supported an initiative for government ministers to issue a declaration of intent to legalize the outposts, but Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz had kept the issue off the government’s agenda.

The Young Settlements Forum and the Yesha Council had manned a protest tent outside Netanyahu’s office in the final weeks of the Trump administration in hopes of ensuring passage of the initiative. Some of the settlers even held a hunger strike.

Should Netanyahu make good on his pledge to authorize the outposts, he would immediately generate friction with the Biden administration, which is opposed to such a move.

At issue are some 165 illegal West Bank outposts, of which some 100 were built from 1991-2005 and another 65 constructed in the last eight years during Netanyahu’s tenure.

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But 41 of the new outposts are herding encampments, designed to claim a foothold on land through agriculture and animal grazing. The remainder of the outposts were designed to eventually become fledgling communities.

According to the left-wing group Peace Now, some 15 West Bank outposts have been legalized as new neighborhoods of existing settlements while Netanyahu has been in office. Another 10 are in the process of legalization.

It was unclear how many outposts would have been included had the government issued a deceleration. But the Young Settlements Forum has focused on 70 outposts that it wants to see legalized either as new neighborhoods of existing settlements or as new settlements.

All of Netanyahu’s rivals on the Right have pledged their support of the outposts, including party leaders Gideon Sa’ar of New Hope, Naftali Bennett of Yamina and Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionists.

Netanyahu’s rivals all voted in favor of legalizing the outposts during a preliminary Knesset vote on the matter just before the government fell. Netanyahu was absent from the Knesset when the vote took place.

But during his speeches, Netanyahu underscored that he was the only one who could make good on his pledge.

“Why wasn’t there [outpost] authorization,” he asked.

“I supported it,” Netanyahu said. “All the Likud ministers supported it. Who opposed it? Gantz.”

Gantz had the power to halt the authorization of the outposts because the government was based on a rotation that allowed power sharing between the Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White Party, he said.

This time around, Netanyahu said, he would not create a rotation government.

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Sa’ar and Bennett, he said, have no such option, and one of them would likely create a rotation government with Yesh Atid Party head Yair Lapid that would make it impossible for them to act on behalf of the settlements, including the outposts.

“If you vote Bennett, you have voted to make Lapid the prime minister,” Netanyahu said. “Do you want Lapid as prime minister? If not, then vote Mahal [Likud].”

Bennett’s Yamina Party is “Lapid’s new hope,” he said, making a play on the name for Sa’ar’s party.

If Bennett goes over two digits in Knesset seats, then the danger grows for a rotation government that would stymie settlement growth, Netanyahu said.

Should voters not want to support the Likud, then they should vote for Smotrich’s party, because he has promised to join a Likud-led government, he said.

Netanyahu also touted his ability to stand strong against US presidents who oppose settlement activity.

He said he was able to stop former US president Obama from taking even stronger stances against the settlements.

“If you cannot operate in the international arena, you cannot be the prime minister of Israel,” Netanyahu said, adding that he had a proven track record on that score.

In the past, he said, he had halted attempts to uproot the settlements and would continue to do so in the future.

From Gush Etzion, Netanyahu made his first-ever visit to the South Hebron Hills, which is considered an isolated area of the West Bank that is beyond the security barrier and is considered to be in danger of evacuation in any two-state plan that would include the blocs.

Even the Trump peace plan, which included the region with the future sovereign borders of Israel, placed the area in an isolated bubble that would have restricted its growth.

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On Sunday, Netanyahu visited the site of an ancient synagogue dated from the fifth to eighth centuries, which is located next to the Sussiya settlement, and he inaugurated new renovations at the site.

According to the South Hebron Hills Regional Council, Netanyahu promised to use some of the money from United Arab Emirates investments to develop the South Hebron Hills area.

UAE businesses are already investing in settlement products and are importing them to the UAE.

The Young Settlements Forum said Netanyahu’s words were significant given the importance of correcting the injustice done to the residents of the outpost sent by the state to create these new communities, but who have not received proper support, including for the infrastructure needed to meet their basic needs.

Now that all the heads of the right-wing parties have pledged to support the settlements, “we see the light at the end of the tunnel,” it said.

But the Young Settlements Forum added a cautionary note.

“At present, all elected officials, first and foremost Netanyahu, will be evaluated on their actions and not their words,” it said.

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