Israel to seek deferral of settler evictions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday he would ask Israel's Supreme Court to defer next week's deadline for demolishing five apartment buildings erected illegally for settlers in the West Bank.

The court has ruled that the buildings, which house 30 families in the unauthorized Ulpana outpost on the fringes of the Beit El settlement, must be razed by May 1 because they were built on privately owned Palestinian land.

Netanyahu said his government is looking for "legal" ways to prevent the buildings from being demolished.

It is not clear if the court would agree to a delay. Decades ago, the court outlawed settlement construction on privately owned Palestinian land, even as it authorized building on other West Bank territory, where 300,000 settlers now live.

Netanyahu disclosed his plans in a set of rare interviews given to Israeli radio stations on the eve of Israel's Memorial Day, which begins Tuesday night.

Some members of Israel's ruling coalition have warned the government would fall if the buildings come down.

Critics accuse the settler movement of using the outposts to grab more and more West Bank territory with the complicity of governments that have agreed not to create more settlements, but want to expand Jewish presence on the territory.

In related news, the government formally recognized three outposts as legal settlements.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said the status of the enclaves was "formalized." He said they were not rogue settler outposts because the government had authorized their construction, an interpretation that has been questioned.

He did not provide the texts of those decisions.

But he acknowledged that one of the enclaves, Sansana, was supposed to have been built within Israel proper, and not in the West Bank.

Another, Rehalim, was authorized by a Cabinet decision that was rendered obsolete by a subsequent Cabinet decision, said Hagit Ofran of Peace Now, an anti-settlement group.

A third, Bruchin, had been considered illegal by previous governments. It was deemed an "illegal outpost" by the spokesman of the military office in charge of the West Bank, in discussing the enclave in a 2007 interview with The Associated Press.

Bruchin along with Rehalim were included in the 2005 report on unauthorized outposts prepared by former state prosecutor Talia Sasson. The Netanyahu government has reopened that report, saying the objectivity of Sasson, who subsequently joined an anti-settlement party, was in question.

Sasson was appointed to prepare the report by the government of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a fierce settlement champion.