Forces evacuate Amona synagogue.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
There were no winners in the Amona evacuation.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett – heads of what has been billed as the most right-wing government in the state’s history – all were hurt politically by allowing Jewish settlers in the West Bank to be evacuated from their homes on their watch.
Lawmakers on the Center-Left could not capitalize politically.
They were careful to acknowledge the suffering of the settlers who were forcibly removed from their homes.
Israeli society was torn again over the question of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. The divide and bad blood grew further between the Zionist Left, which views settlements as detrimental to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and the Right, which views settlements as a security asset and as the rightful land of the Jewish people.
The Palestinians who, according to the Jordanian law that is recognized by Israeli jurisprudence, are the rightful owners of the land on which Amona was built will probably never be able to use it, though Yesh Din, the NGO that petitioned the High Court of Justice against the settlers of Amona, is working to see they take possession.
The High Court, an institution that already suffers from a low level of public trust, has been forced to take the brunt of public criticism. As a result, Israeli democracy has been weakened as the only bulwark against the tyranny of the majority has come under attack yet again.
The only positive thing about the Amona imbroglio is that in the end the rule of law was upheld. The High Court decision handed down more than two years ago that Amona must be evacuated because it was built illegally on private Palestinian land was finally carried out. Police were mobilized to ensure the ruling was honored. The settlers and the hundreds of youths who descended on Amona to protest the evacuation were removed forcefully but with the requisite sensitivity that prevented serious injury.
The tragedy of Amona is that none of this had to happen.
Amona should never have been allowed to be built in the first place. For decades, governments, on the Left and on the Right, that have allowed settlements to be built in Judea and Samaria, sometimes with quiet complicity and sometimes with active encouragement, have differentiated between state land and privately owned land. Building on the former was allowed, building on the latter was not.
Amona is one of the first of about 100 outposts that were built wholly or partially on private Palestinian land.
Instead of curtailing the growth of these outposts, governments have turned a blind, deciding not to decide. In the meantime, these outposts have grown. Israelis who have moved to these outposts have been told lies by right-wing politicians who have promised that they are in no danger of being evacuated. Then they are confronted by reality.
From the outset it was clear to all that Amona would have to be evacuated. There should never have been the nod and wink mentality that has characterized relations between the settlement movement and consecutive governments since before the Likud came to power in 1977.
The time has come for this purposeful ambiguity regarding the future of the West Bank to stop. Unfortunately, there are signs that Netanyahu is continuing his policy of deciding not to decide while pacifying his right-wing constituency with ad hoc decisions.
As scenes of the evacuation at Amona were being broadcast, Netanyahu made sure to announce the establishment of a new settlement in Judea and Samaria, the first state-sanctioned settlement since 1991. And just minutes after the order to evacuate Amona was announced on Tuesday evening, Netanyahu declared his intention to build 3,000 homes in existing settlements.
What vision is behind these announcements? Does the prime minister intend on launching a wave of building in existing settlement blocs? Does he plan on building additional settlements? Is he considering annexation? Netanyahu is slated to meet President Donald Trump in 12 days. Before he leaves for Washington, he should articulate for the Israeli public his vision for the settlements.
Then he should do the same in his meeting with Trump.
The lack of clear policy is what led to the Amona imbroglio.
Netanyahu should learn from Amona the importance of formulating a clear policy for Judea and Samaria. Without an overarching vision, announcements of brand new settlements and increased building in existing settlements only serve to generate more confusion and uncertainty.