JERUSALEM (MCT) —Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that his Cabinet has decided to retroactively legalize three West Bank outposts that previous governments had conceded were built without permission, marking the first step toward what critics fear will become Israel’s first official new settlements since 1990.
The decision late Monday by a Cabinet committee begins a long administrative process to authorize the small settlements of Rehalim, Sansana and Bruchin.
The move infuriated Palestinians and frustrated the international community, which has been pushing Israel to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank and refrain from taking actions that might hinder efforts to restart peace talks.
Government officials said it was inaccurate to characterize the legalization process as establishing new settlements, noting that the three outposts were founded in the 1990s, reportedly with the government’s blessing.
Officials said the outposts only lack certain technical authorizations and planning permits, which now will be given.
“This decision does not change the reality on the ground whatsoever,” said a government official who was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
“It does not establish new settlements or expand existing ones.”
In a 2009 speech, Netanyahu said he had “no intention to build new settlements or set aside land for new settlements.”
But Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement group, said the new policy marks a reversal from previous governments, which had viewed all outposts as unauthorized and promised to dismantle them.
If the three settlements were legal, there would be no need to take action now, the group said.