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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
It wouldn't be too rash to predict that Defense Minister Amir Peretz will never succeed in evicting the Hebron settlers from the building they moved into four weeks ago. That's not to say that they will not eventually be forced to leave by the government, but it won't be by order of Peretz.
There is almost no way that the evacuation will be carried out in the month and a half left to Peretz in the Defense Ministry. The May 28 Labor primaries will almost definitely evict him both from the Labor leadership and the ministry. Even in the extremely unlikely scenario that Peretz manages to snatch victory from the jaws of almost certain defeat, he has already promised after the primaries to demand the Finance Ministry.
Meanwhile, in his remaining 45 days, a quiet coalition of ministers, senior officers and legal officials are going to make sure he doesn't provoke another bloody showdown with the settlers just to boost his flagging primaries campaign.
Attorney-General Meni Mazuz wouldn't allow the settlers' immediate eviction as "trespassers" and instead forced Peretz to use a different order that enables the settlers to petition the Supreme Court, which will probably take at least another month.
Meanwhile senior IDF and police officers have already anonymously voiced their displeasure at the political use of their forces. Outgoing Inspector-General Moshe Karadi said on IDF Radio that he would decide the timing of the eviction and it would be according to "operational circumstances," a clear message to Peretz. But the order could well be overturned in the cabinet, since a majority of ministers could well be opposed to Peretz's move. If Interior Minister Roni Bar-On succeeds in putting the Hebron eviction on the cabinet's agenda, it will only serve to postpone matters even further.
It is almost inevitable that the next defense minister will be the one to deal with this hot potato. Since he obviously won't want to start his tenure off with a punch-up with the settlers, it will be put on the back-burner and conveniently forgotten.
Peretz naturally insisted that there was no political motive behind his decision to evict the settlers, explaining on Wednesday that "the settlement map must be determined by government policy and therefore we intend to act in all legal ways to evacuate the building in Hebron."
The only problem with his claim is that he is making it four weeks too late. If he was indeed so worked up about the government's official settlement map, he should have spoken out the moment the settlers occupied the building. His timing now is suspect.
But Peretz does have a point. The settlers, despite their anti-establishment image, could never have succeeded in their endeavors without support from all the governments of the last 40 years. Sometimes the support was given willingly, in other cases the government was subject to pressure but in the end, the settlements received official blessing or at the least, a blind eye as in the case of the outposts.
It had nothing to do with the legal standing of the land on which the settlements were built. In those cases where the government definitely didn't want the settlers settling down, they were firmly removed. And when the government's map suddenly changed, as it did with Ariel Sharon three years ago, it didn't matter that the settlers had done everything by the book, as the Gush Katif settlers sadly found out.
If the government decides that the Hebron settlers shouldn't be in the building, it won't matter how much money they paid for it; by hook or by crook they'll be forced to leave. The regular laws of private property don't apply once you cross the Green Line.
So who decides on the lines of the settlement map? Definitely not Amir Peretz. He might still be nominally in charge of upholding the law in the West Bank and officially the leader of the second-largest party in the coalition, but he has virtually no power to affect government policy.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has yet to express himself publicly on the issue, but there have been two broad hints to his view. On the day after the settlers entered the building, Kadima MK Othniel Schneller visited the site, proclaiming that the settlement their fits in with Kadima's vision of the future arrangements and that he was sure that the party's leader felt the same.
If Olmert had felt that he was being misrepresented, surely he would have made that clear, just as he did last week when US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed to be bearing messages from him to Damascus. His stand seems to be have been further affirmed this week by Bar-On, one of his closest political allies, stridently supporting the settlers right to remain. If Olmert was in favor of eviction, Bar-On would have kept quiet.
Now that Olmert is planning a comeback to his old haunts in the right wing, the last thing he needs is a fight with the settlers. And besides, he's not about to give Peretz any satisfaction.