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West Bank Outpost Ignites Political Battle

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Israel's highest court has already ruled that the Jewish settler outpost of Ulpana in the West Bank was built on privately owned Palestinian land.

And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government had pledged to meet a May 1 deadline to dismantle the outpost, which has about 30 homes.

But over the weekend, Netanyahu established a special committee to see how permits could be provided to keep the outpost from being torn down.

This has touched off yet another controversy over settlements, one of the most contentious issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

More than 300,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements that have been authorized by the Israeli government but are not recognized by any other country.

In addition, there are dozens of relatively small outposts like Ulpana, which were not authorized by the Israeli government. Despite Israeli court rulings that they are illegal, only a small number have been torn down.

Demonstration In Favor Of The Outpost

Members of Netanyahu's Likud party converged on Ulpana and held a rally Sunday. The outpost is next to the larger settlement of Beit El, and both are near the Palestinian city of Ramallah.

"We are here to say loud and clear, that there is no reason to evacuate those houses, to demolish them," said Yariv Levine, a member of Parliament who belongs to Likud, which strongly supports settlement building.

"I don't think a Likud government can take the children out of their homes," Levine added. "I truly believe that in nine days, 10 years, 100 years, we will be able to see those houses standing as they are standing today and the government as stable as it was before."

Members of Netanyahu's coalition are threatening to bolt and potentially bring down his government if Ulpana and other outposts are demolished.

West Bank settlements were established after Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Mideast war, and the settlements have expanded under every Israeli government since then.

Settlement growth has been particularly robust under Netanyahu, says Yariv Oppenheimer of the anti-settlement group Peace Now.

"We are seeing a real increase in settlement activity," he says.

Oppenheimer says that under Netanyahu's government, some 45,000 new settlers moved to the West Bank over the past three years, a 16 percent increase.

In addition, Oppenheimer says, "The advocacy work that this government is doing for the settler cause is tremendous. They are marketing the settlements all over."

Palestinians Say Their Land Is Shrinking

Near the Palestinian village of Deir Jarir another outpost has been built on private Palestinian land. There is also a push by Israel to authorize that outpost as well.

"This land that was confiscated for the settlements is No. 1 agriculture land," says Joad Abu Hashish, a Palestinian who works in the village council. "It is the land that we used in order to sustain ourselves."

He says the village is already surrounded by expanding settlements and the outposts eat farther into boundaries of the village and the land owned by Palestinians.

Israelis have refused to acknowledge the authenticity of Palestinian documents showing they have ownership, he says.

Back in the Ulpana outpost, Israeli resident Alex Traiman says he can't believe his home might be destroyed.

"It's a beautiful apartment. The garden is fantastic," he says. "So if they say I'm going to knock your buildings down — I want to protect my family. I'm trying to provide a good life for my kids."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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