Israel legalizes 9 West Bank outposts despite US objection

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Maya Alleruzzo/AFP via Getty Images

Israel’s Security Cabinet decided on Sunday to legalize nine illegal outposts in the occupied West Bank and turn them into new settlements, according to the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office.

Why it matters: The decision — the first legalization of illegal outposts by the Israeli government since 2012 — was approved despite objections from the Biden administration. Tensions are expected to rise between the US and Israel.

  • The Biden administration has said it opposes any unilateral moves by Israel that could hamper efforts to negotiate a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including settlement expansion and annexation.
  • “Our position on these matters has been clear and consistent,” a senior Biden administration official said in a statement Sunday.
  • “We are firmly opposed to settlement expansion and we are deeply concerned by reports of a process to legalize outposts, which are illegal under Israeli law,” the official added. “We are seeking further information from the Israeli government as to what was actually decided.”

Driving the news: During a five-hour cabinet meeting, Israeli ministers discussed the recent escalation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and decided to expand police operations in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, the prime minister’s office said.

  • The cabinet decided to increase the number of police and border guards in Jerusalem and to expand police operations against Palestinians who accuse the Israeli authorities of inciting and supporting terrorism.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the operations would focus on those involved in terrorism without collective punishment, which human rights groups have accused the Israeli government of using them to punish the families of the alleged attacks.

In addition to legalizing the nine outpostsThe cabinet decided to connect dozens of other illegal outposts to state infrastructure such as water and electricity and to authorize the planning and construction of thousands of new housing units in the settlements, an official who attended the meeting said.

  • The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said the Civil Administration’s Planning and Land Use Committee, which approves new construction in the settlements, will meet in the coming days to approve the construction of new housing units in existing West Bank settlements.
  • The Prime Minister’s Office statement did not specify how many housing units will be approved. But Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said the cabinet had decided to approve plans and building permits for 10,000 new housing units in the settlements. This would be an unprecedented number of housing units approved at one time.

It’s also the first time since the new government was sworn in two months ago to authorize new construction in Israeli settlements, which much of the international community considers illegal under international law.

  • The last time the Israeli government approved new construction in the settlements was more than a year ago.
  • The Israeli prime minister’s office said in a statement that the decision on the outposts and settlements was in retaliation for two recent attacks in Jerusalem that killed 10 Israelis.

Backstage: Three Israeli officials said the Israeli government gave the Biden administration advance notice of Sunday’s decision.

  • The contact on the Israeli side was Secretary of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer, who was in contact with US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides and White House Middle East Coordinator Brett McGurk.
  • Israeli and US officials said the Biden administration privately spoke out strongly against the Israelis in the days leading up to the cabinet decision and made it clear that it would publicly condemn them once it was approved.

go deeper: US tells Israel if Smotrich is given authority in the West Bank it is a step towards annexation

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated throughout with additional details.

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