Israel to 'legalise' wildcat settler outposts

Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said on Thursday the government wants to give retroactive approval to four West Bank settlement outposts it had previously pledged to at least partially demolish.

In response to a Peace Now petition to the Supreme Court against the outposts, the state attorney's office said settlers had now purchased the private Palestinian land on which they built, paving the way for the government to give its blessing.

"In the response, the government declares its intention to legalise four outposts, in isolated areas," Peace Now said, adding that this was an affront to US Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to revive dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

"The intention to legalise outposts as new settlements is no less than a slap in the face of Secretary Kerry's new peace process," the statement said.

"The... government is indicating it is not committed to peace nor to a two-state solution."

Givat Assaf, Givat HaRoeh, Maaleh Rehavam and Mitzpe Lachish outposts are among six listed in a 2005 government report as deserving immediate eviction and later ordered shut by a court order.

Repeated government appeals have delayed the process.

The Supreme Court is to hear the Peace Now petition on May 22.

The largely right-wing coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu draws much of its political support from settlers.

Israel considers settlement outposts built without government approval to be illegal. They usually consist of little more than a few trailer homes.

But the international community considers all settlements built in the West Bank -- including east Jerusalem -- to be illegal.

The issue is one of the most contentious in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It brought peace talks to a halt in September 2010, when an Israeli freeze on new West Bank settlement construction expired and Netanyahu declined to renew it.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas says negotiations will not resume until Israel halts settlement building.

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina echoed Peace Now's condemnation on Thursday, saying in a statement that "this decision will help destroy US efforts to relaunch the peace process," according to news agency WAFA.