(Updates with Netanyahu statement in third paragraph, Peace Now statement in fifth.)
Oct. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will appoint a committee to review policies on the construction of settlements in the West Bank at locations where the status of the land is “unclear,” his office said.
Settlement opponents said that Netanyahu may use the panel to delay action or legalize the expansion of so-called outposts that were built on private land belonging to Palestinians and never authorized by the Israeli government.
The committee will consider “policy tools and principles of action connected to construction whose status is unclear” in the West Bank, according to a statement the prime minister’s office sent to reporters today by text message. The recommendations will be used in responding to court challenges to the building activity, it said.
The Israeli Justice Ministry said in March that it would remove all unauthorized outposts that were built on private land, in reaction to a petition brought to the country’s High Court of Justice. Peace Now, an Israeli organization opposed to settlements, says that would mean demolishing 70 outposts.
“Even if this taskforce doesn’t come up with legal solutions, the government will probably be able to use it in order to buy more time from the courts, and ask to wait with the enforcement of the law,” Peace Now spokesman Yariv Oppenheimer said in an e-mailed statement.
Israel has constructed about 120 government-authorized settlements in the West Bank since the late 1960s. Another 100 outposts that never received Israeli government approval have been built in the West Bank during the past decade.
The United Nations says all settlements are illegal, and the International Committee of the Red Cross says they breach the Fourth Geneva Convention governing actions on occupied territory. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to renew peace talks unless Israel freezes settlement construction.
Israel says the settlements don’t fall under the convention because the territory wasn’t recognized as belonging to anyone before the 1967 war, in which Israel prevailed, and therefore isn’t occupied.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah today, the Palestine Liberation Organization called on residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to shut their businesses for a two-hour general strike tomorrow in solidarity with hunger-striking Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, according to a statement e-mailed by the PLO Executive Committee.
At least 243 Palestinian inmates have joined a hunger strike to protest prison living conditions, the Israel Prisons Service said Oct. 9.
--With assistance from Fadwa Hodali in Ramallah. Editors: Heather Langan, Karl Maier
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