Finalising a promise made by Prime Minister Netanyahu in April, Israeli Central Command General Nitzan Alon provided the final signature necessary to retroactively “legalise” the West Bank settlement outpost of Rechalim last week.
The now-official settlement of Rechalim has a population of some 200 (Photo: Wikipedia)
Rechalim, located in the northern West Bank near the Palestinian villages of Qabalan and Yatma, was founded in 1991 without prior government approval. Despite the lack of previous planning and construction permits, the Israeli government supplied the “illegal” outpost with infrastructures and in 1998 the Housing Ministry, through the public company Amidar, even constructed a neighbourhood in Rechalim and sold its houses to future residents.
The damning 2005 Israeli government-authorised report by attorney Talia Sasson, Opinion Concerning Unauthorised Outposts, brought the topic of “illegal outposts” to local and international attention. While these “illegal” settlements continued to receive overt and tacit support from subsequent Israeli governments, their legal status remained unchanged due to concern over international and particularly American reactions.
The Samaria Regional Council, the municipal government authority for settlements in the northern West Bank, conducted hundreds of tours in Rechalim to over 60 of the 120 Knesset members and government ministers, in addition to hundreds of journalists, following pressure by the international community and Israeli Left against the outposts. The settler-affiliated news outlet Arutz 7 comments that these tours were aimed to highlight the “absurdity” of defining Rechalim as an unauthorized outpost; given that the Israeli government provided tangible, material support for Rechalim, this was indeed an absurd contention.
Settlers credit the political group Peace Now, which campaigns against settlements, and the human rights organization Yesh Din, which submitted legal petitions against “unauthorized outposts” including Rechalim, with forcing the current government to “legalise” the status of the outpost. In July 2012, the Samaria Regional Council awarded then Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer with honorary citizenship in Samaria in recognition of his actions inadvertently leading to recognition of Rechalim and other outposts.
This change in the government’s declarative policy, however, was more related to efforts by Netanyahu to deflect criticism following the April 2012 eviction of Jewish settlers from a home they occupied in Hebron. It was following the eviction that Prime Minister Netanyahu requested the state attorney to find a way to “legalise” the status of Rechalim and two additional outposts, Brochin and Sansana.
Both the United States and the European Union expressed “concern” following Netanyahu’s stated intention to legalise the three outposts, with a State Department spokesperson labeling the move “not helpful” and EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton calling for a reversal of the decision. These public statements were not translated into action and as the Samaria Regional Council noted, the aforementioned signature by General Nitzan Alon rendered Rechalim as settlement number 32 in the northern West Bank. 32 and counting.