July 23, 2007

Talia Sasson

"It is an Israeli interest to remove the outposts and to implement the report recommendations."

I would like to say a few things about the outpost report that I believe most of you have heard of, and I would like to spend a little bit more time to describe the damages that have been caused, in my own opinion, by the fact that the report is still not implemented. But as a preliminary remark, I would like to say, as my colleague Ilan has said, I am not a representative of the state of Israel, nor the government of Israel. I am on my own and I represent nobody but myself.

The outpost report that I prepared at the request of Prime Minister Sharon and delivered to the government of Israel, did not refer to the international law at all, but only to the internal law in the territories. All the details I got, I got from the state of Israel, and some ministries – Ministry of Defense, IDF, Civil Administration and others. The mission that Prime Minister Sharon wanted me to do dealt with three issues. First of all, he wanted to get all the details that I could gather about the outposts in the West Bank. Then he asked me to show him the legal way to prevent the outposts from growing or to prevent the establishment of new ones. Then he asked me to give him some advice about the enforcement of the law on Israelis in the West Bank. So the report refers to all those issues.

I interviewed about 100 officials. I wrote the report on my own in three months. The whole project took six months, and as I said of the results, the report was delivered to the government of Israel. The findings, that I could just say here very shortly, are that since the ‘90s, no government of Israel has accepted a decision to establish a new settlement in the West Bank. But you could say, that as a phenomenon – we could say that the outposts, as a matter of fact, are new settlements – small ones, but new settlements that were established since the middle of the ‘90s and on in the West Bank – I counted 105 of them, although I didn’t get all the details I asked for, so this list isn’t final, but I believe that most of the outposts are included here.

The outposts are located, some of them, on governmental land. If you want to ask me what that is, then ask me afterwards. Some of them are located on private Palestinian land, and some of them on other kinds of land. The method of the establishment of the outposts was – well, there were a few kinds of methods, but the main one was to establish the outpost on the municipal borders of an original settlement. The municipal borders of the original settlements were extended into large areas in the West Bank since 1996 for political matters.

So, thus, the outposts were located far away from the original settlement, and there was, most of the time, no connection and linkage between the original settlement and the outpost. They were called – those outposts – new neighborhoods of the original settlements, so in the programs of the ministries of Israel you could write the money that goes to the outpost goes to new neighborhoods of a legal settlement according to the internal law, of course. So this is the way the money came to those outposts from the treasury of the State of Israel.

The recommendations that I gave to the government – well, there are a lot of recommendations – a full chapter of them – they were of five types. I can’t give details now, but the bottom line is it said to the government, if you want to build new settlements in the West Bank, it is a matter of policy, the government is responsible for its decisions. But the only one who is enabled to make that decision is the government. If the government can’t do it because of some reasons, and the reasons are the international reasons, then the government can’t do it at all. If you want to do it, do it legally. If you can’t do it legally, then don’t do it at all.

The government adopted the principles of the report and established, as much as I recall, three committees of ministers to implement the report, but to my great sorrow until now no substantial steps were taken.

I would like to count a few of the damages that I see that were caused because the report hasn’t been implemented yet. First of all, the enforcement of the law in the West Bank is very weak from my point of view. I think that there are too many violations of human rights of Palestinians, and if the government would implement the report recommendations, this situation could become much better. The other thing is that this situation harms – the situation of establishing new settlements as outposts in the West Bank illegally harms Israel as a law-abiding state.

This is a very severe damage in my own opinion; I am a lawyer, as you know, and I think that if the authorities of your state systematically breach the law, it’s something that causes a lot of damage to your own citizens. When simple citizens such as myself look at the authorities and see that they are the ones who break the law, then I could say to myself, “Well, if they can, why should I not?” and so on. It’s something that brings a lot of damage – damage to the rule of the state of law causes damage to the democracy itself because those two came to the world together. You can’t have a democracy without the rule of law and the opposite and in the end it harms your own state.

The other damage that I wanted to emphasize is that the Israeli policy is – a solution of the situation and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people is the two-state solution. Filling the area of the West Bank with a lot of outposts – meaning a lot of new settlements – harms the opportunity in the future to enter into a peace process. And more than that, it weakens the moderate Palestinians that see that the area is filled with more and more houses, buildings, settlements, neighborhoods, and so on.

So in all those arguments, and I know there are more, it is an Israeli interest to remove the outposts and to implement the report recommendations – the reason that most of the recommendations do not refer to removal of the outposts is because this is obvious; you don’t need to write more than 300 pages to remove the outposts. Most of the recommendations are looking for how to prevent this phenomenon from happening, and those included a lot of administrative orders to ministries in Israel, the Ministry of Defense, Housing and Building, and many more ministries and this must be implemented, in my opinion, for the sake of Israel.

As a matter of fact, it’s not my own opinion – only my own opinion; the government officials adopted the principles of the report. The initiative to write the report came directly from the Prime Minister of Israel, and in that case I think that the Israeli interest is to implement the report.

Moreover, I just want to say that there are some commitments of the Israeli state –commitments that had been made by Prime Minister Sharon towards President Bush, and among those commitments appears the commitment to remove 24 – to my count, 24 outposts that were established since the beginning of the Sharon governmental term. So for all of those reasons, the best thing for Israel is to implement the outpost report.

Thank you very much for listening.

Remarks by attorney Talia Sasson, legal advisor to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as part of a panel discussion held at the Center for American Progress, July 12, 2007. Access the full transcript>>

Subscribe to Middle East Progress Alerts

Support Middle East Progress

In-Depth Coverage

Original Commentaries

Setting the Record Straight

Determined to Reach a Common Objective

“We knew at the outset that the task would be difficult. We acknowledged that publicly and privately. We knew this would be a road with many bumps— and there have been many bumps—and that continues to this day. But we are not deterred. We are, to the contrary, determined more than ever to proceed to realize the common objective, which we all share, of a Middle East that is at peace with security and prosperity for the people of Israel, for Palestinians, and for all the people in the region. We will continue our efforts in that regard, undeterred and undaunted by the difficulties, the complexities or the bumps in the road.”—George Mitchell, special envoy for Middle East peace, remarks with Prime Minister Netanyahu, September 29, 2010

Middle East Analysis

Upcoming Events

The U.S. Agency for International Development and Conflict: Hard Lessons from the Field

May 17, 2011, 12:00pm – 1:15pm

From Afghanistan and Iraq to Pakistan, Somalia, and South Sudan, the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, is engaged daily in trying to help some of the most troubled nations on the planet make a lasting transition to stability, open markets, and democracy. Few areas of the agency’s work are more challenging or more controversial.

Join us for remarks by, and a roundtable with, the deputy administrator of USAID, Ambassador