A proposal by the Justice Ministry of Israel is to be
discussed next Sunday by a ministerial committee on settlement outposts. An inquiry
by Attorney Talia Sasson, commissioned by Ariel Sharon on the matter,
was meant to serve as the basis for the committee's work. 

Her six-month
inquiry recommended the prosecution
of senior bureaucrats and other officials for their role in illegal


State Prosecutor Talia
Sasson, whose government-commissioned report detailed 105 unauthorized outposts,
said the new Justice Ministry document recommended allowing construction to
continue and undermined her report, which called for the evacuation of the

The outposts detailed in Sasson's March 2005 report range
from isolated hilltop trailers to permanent buildings. Many are near existing, authorized
settlements, in effect extending their reach.

promised in the "road map" peace plan to dismantle about two dozen
outposts set up since Ariel Sharon was first elected prime minister in March 2001,
but little action has been taken.

Upon their election in March, both Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz vowed to crack down on the outposts. Almost
all remain intact, and additional unauthorized structures have been erected in
the West Bank since.

Sasson's report was a damning one that detailed how state
funds were subverted to build the unauthorised outposts and outlined how
officials successfully got round laws banning construction.

“Such severe violations of the law can very badly damage the
basic democratic foundations of the country,” she said in her enquiry report..

In a report today in Ha'aretz, Akiva Eldar, reveals that in
a letter sent by Talia Sasson, on July 10 to then justice minister Haim Ramon, she protested that the
proposal would "subvert the basic principles that underlie the outpost
report." It would indeed "change the situation, but in the opposite
direction of [the report's] original intention".

The letter was also sent to Attorney
General Menachem Mazuz and proposal's author Malkiel Blass.

The letter stated additionally that the Justice Ministry's
proposals on the illegal outposts, would "launder" several illegal
outposts and even enable them to receive government funding.

The proposal would also transfer most of the defense minister's
authority over the settlements to a six-member committee comprised of four
Kadima ministers (the prime, justice, housing and interior ministers) and only
two from Labor (the defense and agriculture ministers).

According to Sasson, the Justice Ministry proposal discards
her list of illegal outposts and replaces it with a much smaller list prepared
by the Defense Ministry. Moreover, she said, neither the proposal nor the
Defense Ministry list offers any definition of what constitutes an illegal

Furthermore, she wrote, the proposal would allow "reasonable
and immediately adjacent" expansions of existing settlements without any
approval from the central government, meaning that only the approval of local
or regional councils in the territories would be needed. That, she said, violates
the principles of both security and proper administration.

Instead of reducing the government's already limited control
over construction in the territories, Sasson argued, this control should be
expanded, such that any Israeli construction in the territories at all would
require government approval.

By "laundering" certain outposts, she continued, the
proposal sends a "grave message that breaking the law pays, criminals aren't
punished and 'the rule of law' is a phrase with no real meaning." It also
violates the government's promises to U.S. President George W. Bush to evacuate
all outposts built after March 1, 2001.

Additionally, she said, the proposal makes no mention of
evacuating illegal outposts, thereby "undermining the principle of
enforcing the law and allowing those who broke the law to benefit from doing so."

Sasson also objected to the proposal's call for establishing
an "exceptions committee" with the power to approve state funding for
illegal outposts. "In a state of law, it should not be possible to approve
the investment of state resources in an illegal settlement," she wrote.

A Justice Ministry spokesman said: "This is an initial
draft of a working paper prepared as a platform for internal discussions, for
the purpose of formulating a proposal for the ministerial committee on the
outposts. The paper was sent to various parties, including attorney Sasson, in
order to obtain their comments. These comments are now being studied and the
matter will continue to be examined until the proposal to be presented to the
committee is finalized."

Nevertheless, the proposal the committee will discuss this
Sunday does not appear significantly different from the one sent to Sasson two
months ago, according to Akiva Eldar's report.

 * sourced in part from Haaretz