(photo credit: )
In one area, at least, the settlers won hands-down, in consistency. The IDF originally said it wouldn't allow them to march to the former Samaria community of Homesh on Independence Day, then announced they would be let through. And a couple of days later, Defense Minister Amir Peretz decided to flex some muscles and once again the orders went out to stop the march.
In the end, the IDF made a half-hearted attempt to block the road leading to the settlement evacuated a year and a half ago, so thousands of demonstrators simply walked cross-country.
This is the third occasion over the last six months in which large groups of settlers and their supporters have returned to the ruins of Homesh. Independence Day was preceded by marches during Hanukka and Pessah.
Each time the IDF showed less and less inclination to confront them. The fact that thousands of marchers defied orders and entered a "closed military zone" with only a handful of a low-profile clashes with the soldiers also shows that both sides have little desire now for violent conflict.
The government has more than enough problems without opening up another front with the settlers. The IDF has to work with them in the West Bank so senior commanders always prefer reaching quiet arrangements, while the settlers feel they can achieve their current goals without a confrontation.
A month before the Labor primary that will probably move him out of the Defense Ministry, no one retains any illusions that Peretz has the power to change anything in the field. His attempt to cancel the march on Homesh failed miserably; the same thing seems to be happening with his campaign to evict the settlers from their newly occupied building in Hebron.
He is receiving no backing whatsoever from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and senior IDF officers are using every delaying tactic they have in their arsenal to avoid taking part in Peretz's primary antics. In five or six weeks there will be a new defense minister; better to wait until then before causing another showdown.
Meanwhile, the settlers are carefully considering their relationship with the state's authority. Last year's Independence Day took place while the traumas of disengagement and the bloody evacuation of the Amona outpost were still fresh. For much of the national religious community, the settlers' core constituency, festivities were muted.
This year, partly because of a feeling of unity created by the Second Lebanon War, and because the government's "realignment" plan has been frozen indefinitely, most settlers felt more comfortable rejoicing on the state's birthday. But still, many of them preferred to mark the day by marching 10 kilometers to Homesh rather than by barbecuing in a national park.
This third consecutive success in defying the government and the army will only have bolstered their determination. So where is all this going?
The settlers are clear about their objective. They want to rebuild Homesh and to strike a blow against any future plan to evacuate settlements. Both sides realize that reestablishing a permanent presence would be a redline that would compel the government to send large forces to evict the re-settlers, and the likely result will be another violent confrontation.
Neither side is ready for that. The government lacks the credibility and the IDF is trying its best to rebuild itself as far away as possible from political disputes.
The settlers are also going through a complex process in which the leadership is passing to the younger generation. They need time before their next big campaign, but its time will come. The cat-and-mouse games around Homesh every national holiday could continue for a while but the next showdown is not far off.