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JERUSALEM -- The Israeli government on Sunday set up a new forum of ministers aimed at preempting any possible future court challenges to wildcat settlement outposts in the West Bank.
"The committee will have authority to formulate government policy regarding unregulated construction on state and private lands, including the main issues that have reached the courts," a cabinet statement said.
"Committee decisions will have the status of cabinet decisions and ministers will be unable to appeal them."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would form such a committee on June 6 in what was widely understood as a move to placate the settler lobby.
Earlier in the day, MPs voted down a settler-backed bill aimed at circumventing a court order to demolish homes built on private Palestinian land in the Ulpana neighbourhood, an outpost built on the outskirts of Beit El settlement near Ramallah.
Netanyahu also pledged to build 300 more homes at Beit El.
"I have also decided to establish a ministerial committee on settlement to ensure that the government's policy of strengthening settlement is implemented," he said at the time.
A large part of the settlers' anger had been directed at Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who as the minister in charge of the occupied West Bank is also responsible for setting up settlements or removing them.
In April, he ordered forces to evict settlers from a disputed house in the southern city of Hebron, prompting settler accusations that he was "treating them like the enemy."
The left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, however, said that if settlers believed the new committee would dilute Barak's influence over their affairs, they were in for a shock, citing a written clarification from a legal adviser to the premier's office.
"The decision does not diminish the prime minister and defence minister's authority, as stated in government decisions, according to which the defence minister has the authority to approve construction and planning in the West Bank," the clarification said.