Feb 12, 2023 - World

Israel legalizes 9 West Bank outposts despite U.S. objection

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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

The Israeli Security Cabinet on Sunday decided 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 by the Biden administration. It is expected to create tensions between the U.S. 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 strongly oppose expansion of settlements, and we’re deeply concerned by reports about a process to legalize outposts that are illegal under Israeli law," the official added. "We are seeking more information from the Israeli government on what has actually been decided."

Driving the news: During a five-hour cabinet meeting, Israeli ministers discussed the latest escalation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and decided to expand the police operation in the Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

  • The Cabinet decided to increase the number of police and border guard forces in Jerusalem and expand the police operation against Palestinians who Israeli authorities accuse of inciting and supporting terrorism.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the operations will focus on those involved in terrorism without any collective punishment, which human rights groups have accused the Israeli government of using to punish the families of those suspected of carrying out attacks.

In addition to the legalization of the nine outposts, the Cabinet decided to connect dozens of other illegal outposts to state infrastructure like water and electricity and approve the planning and building of thousands of new housing units in the settlements, an official who attended the meeting said.

  • The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said the planning and zoning committee of the civil administration, which approves new building in the settlements, will convene in the coming days to approve the building of new housing units in existing settlements in the West Bank.
  • The Prime Minister’s Office statement did not say how many housing units will be approved. But Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said the Cabinet 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 that it has approved new building in Israeli settlements, which much of the international community considers illegal under international law.

  • The last time the Israeli government approved new building in the settlements was more than a year ago.
  • The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that the decision about the outposts and the settlements was in retaliation for two recent attacks in Jerusalem that killed 10 Israelis.

Behind the scenes: Three Israeli officials said the Israeli government notified the Biden administration in advance of Sunday's decision.

  • The point person on the Israeli side was Minister for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer, who was in contact with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides and White House Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk.
  • Israeli and U.S. officials said the Biden administration expressed strong opposition to the Israelis in private in the days leading to the Cabinet decision and made clear it will condemn it publicly once it is approved.

Go deeper: U.S. tells Israel if Smotrich gets West Bank authority it's step toward annexation

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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