Evacuation of Amona.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Fires burned, barricades blocked the roads, youths chained themselves to homes. The scenes from Amona were dramatic and sometimes heart wrenching as police finally evacuated the illegal outpost this week.
In front of almost every house, boys desperately petitioned, pleaded and tried to persuade police to refuse orders, telling them to be “heroes,” shouting at them “how can you evacuate Jews from the Land of Israel,” and warning them that they will be “eternally disgraced.” Their pain and passion were genuine, but take a step back and the wider picture tells a different story.
Amona does not mark defeat for the settlement movement, just tactical withdrawal; a withdrawal that is to be rewarded with the controversial regulation bill that would allow the legalization of homes built on private Palestinian land – if it passes the hurdles of the Knesset and the High Court of Justice.
On Tuesday, almost in coordination with the army’s evacuation order, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced that a total of some 3,000 new homes in existing West Bank communities would be authorized or advanced, having been in deep freeze. On Wednesday, as the police moved in to Amona on the coldest day of the year, Netanyahu warmed settler hearts by announcing that land would be allocated for a new settlement – the first in some 25 years.
But even without those new settlements, the settlement movement has in many ways emerged the victor.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett expressed the sentiment in the settler camp when he said, “We lost the battle, but we are winning the war for the Land of Israel.”
The expectation in the settler camp is that for every house demolished many more will be built and now, after eight lean years of the Obama administration, they are looking forward to at least four fat years under Trump.
One settlement elder told me, as we watched a youth activist confront a police officer, that when he came to the nearby settlement of Beit El there were only a few dozen people and today he has 20 grandchildren there. Beit El was founded in 1977 and today has a population of more than 6,000.
The elder, with his long flowing white beard looking almost biblical as we stood against the backdrop of the hills of Binyamin, was smiling as we watched the scene unfold, as if to say “we are too strong, too deeply rooted to be removed.”
Some 3,000 policemen were deployed to evacuate Amona with its 40 families and the dozens or perhaps hundreds of activists who had turned up to “resist.” With the exception of a last stand by some 60 hardcore activists holed up inside the community’s synagogue, the evacuation passed without major incident. Violence over Amona, was in nobody’s interest, but it is hard to imagine a major evacuation taking place without a deep schism in Israeli society. In fact, it is hard to imagine one taking place at all.
A soldier from a nearby settlement gave us a lift out. He had skipped returning to base from his infantry brigade and said that he couldn’t just stand aside. As we drove out, he shouted out at a group of youths standing behind a barbed wire periphery erected by the army that they should head down the path a few kilometers and they could skirt around the barrier.
“Look at their passion, look at their commitment,” he told me. I asked him whether Amona or a larger scale eviction could cause a split in society. He replied that the army is a lot smarter today and that many of those who had taken part in protesting previous evictions from outposts were officers in the army today – but being uprooted from one’s home leaves its mark. “Besides,” he said, “there won’t be any more evictions.”
What about the Palestinians? I asked. Don’t you agree that a one-state solution is a recipe for disaster and that continuing the status quo where Israel rules over another people without equal rights is immoral? Our conversation was cut short as we were headed in different directions, but the soldier pointed me to the writings of Moti Karpel, a leading ideologue of the national camp.
Karpel suggests annexation of Area C with residency or full citizenship for the some 70,000 Palestinians residing in the 60 percent of the West Bank that is under full Israeli civil and security control – as Bennett has also called for – and then expanding the process “democratically” to areas A and B under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Karpal’s proposition is that, beginning with villages in proximity to Area C, the Palestinians would be given the option to opt for inclusion under Israeli sovereignty, to receive permanent residency and down the road to be organized in autonomous regional cantons.
Earlier in the week I met with a senior international diplomat, who described a need for innovative Israeli thinking on the peace process. Karpal’s idea for a non-national, clan-based system was probably not what he had in mind. I put to him that Israeli and Palestinian narratives are so far apart as to be parallel lines that will never meet and that the concept of a two state solution with two contiguous geographical entities existing side by side is surely beyond resuscitation, if not at least for the foreseeable future.
Is it not time, I asked him, for the international community to innovate its own thinking rather than sticking to the same old statements about preserving the possibility of a two-state solution?
Nothing new seems to be on the table.