Israel quietly legalizes pirate outposts in the West Bank

Source: The New York Times

MITZPE DANNY, West Bank — One night in the fall of 1998, a self-professed “outpost entrepreneur” brought three trailers to a rugged hilltop in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and established his first pirate settlement.

Dozens of youthful supporters came to cheer on the entrepreneur, Shimon Riklin, whose wife, newborn and toddler joined him a few days later. A second family also moved in. To their initial surprise, nobody from the military or government came to remove them. “After six months,” Mr. Riklin said in a recent interview, “I understood it was a done deal.”

They named their outpost Mitzpe Danny, after a British immigrant stabbed to death by a Palestinian at the settlement across the highway, and went on over the next few months to help establish Mitzpe Hagit and then Neve Erez a short drive away. “I jumped from hill to hill,” Mr. Riklin said.

Today, more than 40 Orthodox Jewish families live in Mitzpe Danny, one of a string of outposts on a strategic ridge with breathtaking views southwest to Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives and east all the way to Jordan. They are part of an expansive network of about 100 outposts established mostly over the past two decades without government authorization.

At least one-third of these have either been retroactively legalized or — like Mitzpe Danny — are on their way, in what anti-settlement groups that track the process see as a quiet but methodical effort by the government to change the map of the West Bank, now in its 50th year under Israeli occupation, by entrenching the outposts that spread like fingers across it.

With the Israeli-Palestinian peace process dormant and the international community increasingly suspicious of the right-wing Israeli government’s commitment to the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state, the outposts are being seized on as evidence that the conflict may be impossible to unwind. In its July report, the so-called Quartet of Middle Eastpeacemakers — made up of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — listed it as a trend “imperiling the viability of the two-state solution.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in his first term when Mitzpe Danny was founded, has since endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and said that his government would not build new settlements or expropriate land for existing ones. But Ziv Stahl, the research director at Yesh Din, one of the left-wing advocacy groups, said “they are authorizing them in disguise.”

Israel, Ms. Stahl said, has tried to avoid international censure by registering outposts like Mitzpe Danny as “neighborhoods” of established settlements, though some are far apart and function as separate communities.

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