West Bank Outpost Ignites Political Battle Israel's highest court has ruled that Ulpana, a Jewish settlement outpost in the West Bank, was built on Palestinian land and should be torn down. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government is now looking for a way to keep it in place. The issue could threaten the survival of Netanyahu's government.

West Bank Outpost Ignites Political Battle

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Israel is making good on its vow to legalize a series of unauthorized settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank. Over the weekend, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu established a special committee to look into how to provide permits for the communities.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro visited one of the outposts called Ulpana and she filed this report.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Last year, the government promised the Israeli high court that this series of buildings in the Ulpana neighborhood in the settlement of Beit El would be dismantled because they were built on private Palestinian land. With the deadline of May 1st looming, though, the Israeli government is reneging on that after a wave of political pressure.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yesterday, in the most recent action, members of Netanyahu's party Likud converged on the Ulpana outpost and held a rally. It wasn't a large affair, but then it didn't have to be. Support for the settlements comes from within the government itself and doesn't rely on broad popular support.

YARIV LEVINE: We are here to say loud and clear that there is no reason to evacuate those houses, to demolish them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yariv Levine is a Likud Knesset member. He says that this government stands behind the settlement project.

LEVINE: I don't think that the Likud government can take the children out of their houses. I truly believe that in 9, 10 days, 10 years, and 100 years, we will be able to see those houses standing as they are standing today and the government as stable as it was before.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The fate of settlement outposts has become one of the most contentious issues facing the Netanyahu government. The international community and the Palestinians regard all Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank as illegal. But Israel only deems the so-called outposts, which were not built with approval of the state as illicit. Previous Israeli governments have at least paid lip service to dismantling them. Not this one, says Yariv Oppenheimer from the anti-settlement group Peace Now.

YARIV OPPENHEIMER: We see a real increase of settlement activity, changes, outposts, new construction almost everywhere in the West Bank.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oppenheimer says that under the Netanyahu administration, some 45,000 new settlers have moved to the West Bank, a 16 percent increase. But that's not what makes this government different. Settlement expansion has been a feature of both right wing and left wing Israeli governments. But, says Oppenheimer...

OPPENHEIMER: The advocacy work that this government is doing for the settler cause is tremendous. They are marketing the settlements all over. And this is new and it's much more wide than it was before.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Near one Palestinian village, another cluster of illegal housing in an outpost has been built on private Palestinian land. There is a push by Israel to legalize that too. Palestinian Joad Abu Hashish works in the village council.

JOAD ABU HASHISH: (Through translator) This land that was confiscated for the settlements is number one agriculture land. It is the land that we used in order to sustain ourselves.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says the village is already surrounded by ever expanding settlements and the outposts eat further into what people use to survive. He said everyone here knows what land belongs to them and where the boundaries of our village lie. It's all well documented. Pretending the papers don't exist or aren't real is a lie they use to steal what we have, he says. Back in the Ulpana outpost, Israeli resident Alex Traiman says he can't believe his home might be destroyed because of this.

ALEX TRAIMAN: I don't live here because it's on the top of outpost. I got a job. It happens to be in this town. They were just finishing this building. I saw it. It's a beautiful apartment. The garden is fantastic. If they say I'm going to knock your buildings down, I want to protect my family. I'm trying to provide a good life for my kids.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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