Israel to legalise rogue settlement in response to rabbi murder
JERUSALEM - Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said ministers would grant formal authorisation Sunday to a rogue West Bank settlement in response to last month's murder of a rabbi who lived there.
The move comes with European nations voicing increasing concern over settlement growth in the occupied Palestinian territory, but with US President Donald Trump largely refraining from such criticism -- what many Israelis view as a green light.
Israeli authorities have advanced plans for thousands of new settlement homes in recent months. Cabinet votes to authorise a pre-existing outpost such as Sunday's are relatively rare.
"The government will today regularise the status of Havat Gilad to allow the continuance of normal life there," Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, referring to the wildcat settlement.
The official cabinet agenda says ministers will hear a motion to designate the 15-year-old outpost as a "new community" which will have the necessary building permits and a state budget.
It says that about 40 families live in the outpost, but envisages its enlargement.
Rabbi Raziel Shevach was shot dead near Havat Gilad, where he lived, on January 9.
The following week, Israeli troops searching for his attackers shot dead what they described as a Palestinian suspect in the city of Jenin in the northern West Bank, about 35 kilometres (22 miles) north of Havat Gilad.
However, they did not catch the man considered to have led the attack on Shevach, 22-year-old Ahmed Jarrar.
The manhunt continued on Saturday with a raid on the village of Burqin. In clashes that erupted there, soldiers shot dead a teenager identified by the Palestinian health ministry as Ahmad Abu Obeid, 19.
"Yesterday our forces were again in action in an effort to apprehend the last of the assassins and their accomplices in the murder of Rabbi Shevach," Netanyahu told cabinet ministers and media.
"We will not rest until we bring them to justice," he pledged. "And we shall bring them all to justice."
- 'Revenge' -
At Shevach's funeral, there were calls for "revenge" during a speech by Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the far-right Jewish Home party.
Bennett responded by saying that the only revenge should be in building more settlements, and Netanyahu said Sunday that was one of the planks of his policy.
"Anyone who thinks that through the abominable murder of a resident of Havat Gilad, a father of six, they would break our spirits and weaken us is making a bitter mistake," he said.
Settlement watchdog Peace Now, however, said that retroactively granting legal status to Havat Gilad, built without submitting development plans or obtaining construction permits, was "cynical exploitation" of Shevach's death.
Israeli settlements are seen as illegal under international law and major obstacles to peace as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
But Israel differentiates between settlements it has approved and those it has not.
Those without approval are referred to as outposts and tend to be populated by hardline religious nationalists who see the entire West Bank as part of Israel.
Past attempts by Israeli authorities to dismantle Havat Gilad have led to clashes with settlers there.
Israel has several times given retroactive approval to outposts, and last year work began on the first completely new government-sanctioned settlement built in the Palestinian territories in some 25 years.
Israel faced sharp criticism from the administration of former US president Barack Obama over settlement construction, but that has not been the case with Trump's White House and Israeli officials have sought to take advantage of this.
European nations and the United Nations maintain their strong opposition to settlement building.