amona horse 88.
(photo credit: AP)
While the government is busy dealing with a rapidly disintegrating Palestinian Authority, the Syrian enigma, the reemerging Hizbullah threat on the northern border and, above all, the Iranian bomb, the question of West Bank outposts seems little more than a minor irritant. But the issue hasn't gone away.
Eleven months ago, Ehud Olmert was a caretaker prime minister facing elections, and Peace Now petitions to the High Court of Justice forced him into a bloody showdown with hundreds of young settlers on the rooftops of the Amona outpost. The next stage was supposed to be the removal in June of three or four more outposts, labeled by police as "law-breaking and violent."
Thousands of police officers and soldiers were mobilized for what promised to be a replay of Amona on a wider scale. Then Cpl. Gilad Shalit was captured in a Hamas attack, and two weeks later the Lebanon war broke out. The outposts were forgotten.
Olmert and his ministers have little sympathy for the outpost dwellers, but they would prefer that the outposts sink into oblivion. The last thing the government needs, in its present vulnerable state, is another Amona. But the issue isn't going to disappear.
Two months ago, Peace Now set off another round of recriminations with its report claiming that 75 percent of the settlements were built on private Palestinian land. It can be relied upon to continue its anti-settlement campaign in the High Court.
Last week there was a much ruder awakening when, out of the blue, the US State Department registered its deep disapproval of the cabinet decision authorizing a group of families who were removed last year from Shirat Hayam in Gush Katif to settle in the deserted Nahal outpost of Maskiyot in the Jordan Valley. Suddenly we remembered that despite American support for almost everything, the US still won't accept new settlements across the Green Line - including in the quiet and largely empty Jordan Valley.
The last thing Olmert needs is a noisy confrontation with the settlers; there will be time enough for that if he ever gets around to serious negotiations with the Palestinians. Meanwhile, he's got more pressing issues on his mind.
But senior officials in the Defense Ministry and the IDF realize that Olmert may have no choice. Pressure to move the outposts might come from a number of directions.
The Bush administration wants to show its Arab allies that it can extract concessions from Israel. Defense Minister Amir Peretz and his Labor colleagues want to reassert their left-wing credentials and might demand that Olmert fulfill his long-forgotten coalition obligations. And, of course, the High Court might force his hand.
The new committees carrying out the re-mapping of the settlements are in place to enable the government to avert a new crisis over the outposts.
Quiet channels of communication between the government and the mainstream settler leadership have been active ever since the elections. Distrust is deep on both sides. But go-betweens like Kadima MK Othniel Schneller are convinced that arrangements can be reached in which the settlers agree to the removal of a few outposts in return for a quid pro quo.
The only problem with this rosy scenario is that the settlers living in the outposts have, by and large, rejected the leadership of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. They will view any agreement as a sell-out by the Council, and another clash could be the result.