The Israeli government has agreed to provide basic services to eight settlement outposts in the West Bank, despite earlier promises to remove illegal outposts as part of the Roadmap peace plan.
Israel's Defense Ministry has confirmed that eight outposts will get electricity, water, school and kindergarten services, and a security fence. Basic services and security are provided to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, but not to small outposts that do not have government authorization to exist.
The order to provide services to the eight outposts was outlined in a letter signed by the defense minister's advisor on settlements, Ron Schechner. The daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, calls the decision a whitewashing of illegal settlement outposts.
Mr. Schechner told Israeli media the decision to provide services does not mean the outposts are legal or will stay there forever. He said that would be up to the politicians to decide.
During the initial phase of the internationally backed Roadmap for Peace, Israel was to dismantle dozens of illegal settlement outposts that have been set up since March, 2001. A few, mostly uninhabited, sites were dismantled amid great publicity, but the process quickly stalled and new small outposts have sprung up.
Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said the Defense Ministry decision shows that Israel continues to defy the Roadmap and remains intent on extending its occupation of Palestinian land.
The Israeli group Peace Now, which also monitors settlement activity, called the move a blatant breach of the road map.
Just last week, Israel announced it would take bids to build more than 300 apartments in existing West Bank settlements. Under the Roadmap Israel is to freeze all settlement activity, but Israeli officials have said the government will not move ahead with implementing the Roadmap until the Palestinians stop militant attacks and dismantle militant organizations.