JERUSALEM: Israel has quietly "legalised" an unauthorised settlement outpost in the West Bank, the Peace Now settlement watchdog said on Wednesday, in the sixth such move within a year.
Peace Now's Hagit Ofran said the move to legalise the Nofei Nehemia outpost, south of the Palestinian city of Nablus, was taken "a few days ago" in contravention of Israel's commitments under the Middle East peace roadmap.
"Nofei Nehemia is an outpost established after March 2001, and under the roadmap Israel was supposed to remove it," she said.
The status of the outpost was upgraded several days ago when a military order officially established the boundaries of another nearby outpost called Rechelim -- one of three unauthorised settlements that were retroactively legalised by the government in April 2012, Ofran said.
"It turned out that within the boundaries (of Rechelim) they included Nofei Nehemia, so the bottom line is that they also approved Nofei Nehemia," she said, noting that the outpost lies some two kilometres (around a mile) west of Rechelim.
"This is not something that happened by accident," she told AFP. "I think it was easier for them to do it quietly, rather than have it clear that they authorised another settlement."
A military spokesman confirmed to AFP that central region commander General Nitzan Alon on January 2 "signed, following a directive by the Israeli political authorities, an order legalising the village of Rechelim."
"For the Israeli authorities, Nofei Nehemia is an integral part of Rechelim, one settlement only," the spokesman added.
The move raises to 10 the total number of illegal outposts authorised by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- the only administration to take such a step, Peace Now said.
The Palestinians slammed the move and called on the international community to act on its "moral obligations" regarding settlement building.
"This whole administrative process with which Israel affords the status of legality to settlement outposts is illegal. It is a sham," Palestinian Authority spokeswoman Nour Odeh told AFP.
"All Israeli settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territories... is illegal under international law. Illegal actions must have consequences."
There are 32 mobile homes in Nofei Nehemia, and over the past year 12 permanent homes were built in the outpost, which was established in 2002.
Under the terms of the US-backed roadmap, which was launched by the Middle East Quartet of peacemaking diplomats in June 2003, Israel committed to remove all unauthorised outposts set up since March 2001.
Last year, Israel quietly conferred "legal" status on six outposts across the West Bank.
Israel differentiates between "legal" settlements and "illegal" outposts set up without government permission, but the international community views all settlement activity on occupied territory as a violation of international law.
Peace Now says there are more than 100 "illegal" outposts which were set up by various Israeli governments since the 1990s in an unofficial and illegal manner.