A government report made public Wednesday says the Israeli government played a key role in establishing and expanding Jewish settlements on Palestinian land in direct violation of its own policy. Cabinet ministers are calling for immediate action to dismantle all settlement outposts.
The report concludes that a number of Israeli ministries and official institutions secretly contributed funding to settlement outposts with the intent of breaking up Palestinian lands into unconnected blocks in order to prevent the establishment of a future Palestinian state.
The report was presented Wednesday by former state prosecutor Talia Sasson, who conducted the study.
Ms. Sasson told a Jerusalem news conference that just this past year some 400 mobile homes were given free of charge to settlers who used them to establish outposts on the Palestinian lands of the West Bank.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, once the chief proponent of settlement creation and expansion, is now calling for the elimination of many of them, including all those in the Gaza Strip and four smaller ones in the northern West Bank. He has also promised the United States that he would dismantle unauthorized outposts, which Israel is required to do as the first step in the internationally-supported "road map" peace plan. Only a few have so far been dismantled because of what Israel describes as legal obstacles.
When he was foreign minister in 1998, Mr. Sharon publicly called on settlers to seize hilltops in the West Bank and establish outposts. Once he became prime minister, in 2001, there was a flurry of settlement building. Now, he appears to have done an about-face, something settlers and their supporters consider outright betrayal.
Settlement advocate Benny Kashriel, mayor of the large Ma'ale Adumim settlement just east of Jerusalem, says it is hypocritical for the government to now dismantle what it calls "illegal" settlements when it secretly supported them.
"We cannot say illegal or legal when the government sent us to build those settlements," he said. "And when the ministers, like the minister of housing with the permission of the prime minister and with their advocates in their offices permitting us to build. They cannot come after 10 or 15 years after and tell us it's illegal."
Whether Mr. Sharon was personally involved in the secret support of the settler expansion outlined in the government report, is not known. But settlement proponents, now battling against the prime minister's disengagement plan, say it is obvious that he had a major role to play in the affair.
The Sasson report recommends that prosecutors open a formal investigation into possible criminal activity by officials who may have been involved in the outpost support and expansion.
Several members of the Israeli cabinet, including Housing Minister Yitzhak Herzog, called on Mr. Sharon to dismantle all outposts immediately. But, Mr. Herzog also praised Mr. Sharon for displaying what he termed "unusual courage" by reversing course and calling for the dismantling of settlements. He said the prime minister should be praised for ordering a review of settlement policy.
Next Sunday, the prime minister is expected to present the full report to his cabinet during their regular weekly meeting.