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Israel legalizes three West Bank outposts

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JERUSALEM — Israel announced Tuesday that it has legalized three unauthorized Jewish outposts in the West Bank, a move that Palestinians and anti-settlement activists condemned as a step toward creating the first new settlements in more than a decade.

The decision marked the latest effort by Israel’s right-wing coalition government to prevent evictions — some of them court-ordered — of Jewish settlers who have established communities without government permission in the West Bank, where Israel occupies land that Palestinians want for a future state.

Settlements are a core point of dispute in the frozen peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, who view the housing developments as Israeli land-grabbing and want construction to stop before resuming negotiations. Israel says the issue should be discussed during peace talks.

Although most foreign governments consider all settlements illegal, Israel applies that label only to about 100 so-called outposts that were built without official authorization, sometimes on private Palestinian land. Past Israeli governments have pledged to dismantle the outposts but have rarely moved to do so, and authorities have instead provided them with sewage, water and other services.

In a short statement issued Tuesday, the government said that a ministerial committee had decided to “formalize” the three outposts of Sansana, Bruchin and Rechelim, whose establishment it attributed to “previous governments.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pressured to save the outposts by pro-settlement allies, some of whom have threatened to leave the governing coalition over the issue. Last month, the Israeli Supreme Court knocked back a government effort to delay the evacuation of the largest outpost, Migron, a ruling that energized efforts by conservative lawmakers to “retroactively” legalize the unauthorized settlements.

Anti-settlement activists say such efforts amount to the creation of new settlements, the first since the 1990s.

“This announcement is against the Israeli interest of achieving peace and a two-state solution,” the group Peace Now, which opposes settlements, said in a statement.

Netanyahu has also pledged to block the scheduled razing on May 1 of apartment buildings in another outpost, Ulpana, which the Supreme Court had ordered because they were built on private Palestinian land.

“We are searching for legal ways because we are a state of law,” Netanyahu told Army Radio on Tuesday.

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