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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The latest report by Peace Now that the settlers took advantage of the war in Lebanon to expand the outposts in the West Bank is disingenuous to say the least.
West Bank settlements and the outposts in particular have a knack for expansion, you might say that it's in their nature. Leave an outpost alone for a couple of months, then come back and you'll find it has sprouted four new caravans, a kindergarten and the roads have been paved.
Also the Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip's outrage at Peace Now for dragging the war into the political debate is far from innocent. Of course the settlers used the period when all the attention was on Lebanon, they would have been fools to have done otherwise. Just as they are wholly justified in capitalizing on their disproportionate share in the war's casualties to curry support for their cause.
But it was hard not to notice the satisfaction on the faces and in the voices of both movements' representatives shuttling between the TV and radio news shows - they were back in business.
Putting the outpost issue back on the agenda, as it was 100 days ago, the morning that Cpl. Gilad Shalit was captured at Kerem Shalom and a summer of warfare ensued, is good for all sides.
It gives Peace Now and the rest of the Zionist left-wing that took a beating, both politically and ideologically this summer, a new, albeit limited, raison d' tre. The outposts are not very popular, seen by many as a nuisance for the overstretched IDF, and their removal won't entail hundreds of uprooted families and pictures of victorious Palestinians.
For the settlers, this is a good opportunity to take on the weakened government when they are enjoying an unaccustomed period of public sympathy, score points and perhaps gain official authorization for some of the outposts.
The outposts can also be a useful hobby-horse for senior ministers. Amir Peretz is trying to restore some of his lost credentials with his former leftist supporters by proving that he can still carry out some of his original agenda as defense minister. Who knows, maybe he'll manage to return some of his lost flock.
Also Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni decided to make her mark, when last Friday in Yediot Aharonot she said that "outposts have to be evacuated yesterday, today and tomorrow." Livni has a double motivation here, inward and outward. Talking tough on law and order is a first step toward building an independent image for herself as Kadima's iron lady, especially when Premier Ehud Olmert and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz are busy playing the blame game over the war.
In her day job as foreign minister, she hopes that removing even a couple of outposts will give her more leverage in diplomatic dealings.
None of the opportunists believe there is currently a real chance of evacuating an outpost. The low morale in IDF after the war and the deep concern that settler soldiers and officers and their supporters might refuse orders, makes the high command extremely reluctant to take part in any controversial operations.
This is the worst timing possible for a rerun of the violence at Amona last year, and no politician or general is going to take the risk. But tough talk is risk-free.