(JTA) — Israeli Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar called Israel’s legalization of three West Bank settlement outposts a "holiday gift" for the nation’s Independence Day from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The remark came a day after a spokesman for the prime minister, Mark Regev, was quoted in The New York Times as saying that the recognition of the outposts of Bruchin, Sansana and Rechalim did not constitute legalization of unauthorized settlements but rather resolution of "procedural and technical" issues such as improper permits and mistakenly building on the wrong hill.
On Thursday, Sa’ar spoke at the annual International Bible Contest, held every Yom Ha’atzmaut.
"From this spot, we’ll send our recognition to the prime minister," he said, according to Haaretz. "Because the Jewish settlement in the land of Israel is the realization of a right, a return to the right of our forefathers, on which will be intertwined with the Israeli people’s right for national security."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that he was "deeply troubled" by Israel’s announcement on the outposts.
"The Secretary-General reiterates that all settlement activity is illegal under international law," the statement said. "It runs contrary to Israel’s obligations under the Road Map and repeated Quartet calls for the parties to refrain from provocations."
The U.S. State Department added its concerns.
"We don’t think this is helpful to the [peace] process, and we don’t accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity," said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, according to The Jerusalem Post.
On Wednesday, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, condemned the move on the settlements and asked the Security Council to intervene.
Israel "continues directly to neglect and violate all international commitments," Mansour said, according to the Ma’an Palestinian news service.
The outposts were legalized Monday by a special Israeli government committee. In a statement, the panel said, "These communities were founded in the 1990s based on the decisions of past governments."
Also, the committee ordered the State Prosecutor’s Office to ask the Supreme Court to postpone the May 1 evacuation of the Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El, a settlement that is built on privately owned Palestinian land.
Netanyahu has pledged to find a solution to the neighborhood that would not involve destroying the 30 homes there. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said the neighborhood should be razed and rebuilt in another area of Beit El.