migron outpost 248.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has declared that he will support all measures taken by the defense establishment to remove the illegal outposts in the West Bank. Thus the burden has been placed squarely on Defense Minister Ehud Barak, chairman of the Labor Party. Indeed, Barak repeats almost daily the need and duty to observe the rule of law and remove settlers from outposts which have been established illegally. But as far as actions are concerned, the result is that one outpost - Maoz Esther - was evacuated last week but, as expected, was immediately reestablished as soon as the soldiers left. Despite past experience, nobody in the defense establishment thought that guards should be kept on the site to prevent this.
Barak keeps saying that the removal of the outposts should be preceded by a dialogue with the settlers. Dialogue is always better than showdown, and voluntary withdrawal is much preferable to use of force. There remains one question: Why didn't such a dialogue produce results during Barak's stint as minister of defense in Ehud Olmert's cabinet?
And another question relates to the political price the settlers will exact from the government for agreeing to withdraw.
The truth is that in most cases there is no need for force. All that is needed is simply that government agencies - including the defense establishment - discontinue their assistance to these outposts. Without such assistance it is doubtful whether there would have been any outposts to begin with.
Who guards these outposts? Who connects some of them to the electricity grid and the water system? Who failed to prevent the settlers from "reconquering" Maoz Esther? Who if not the very defense establishment headed by Ehud Barak?
IN HER REPORT on the illegal settlements in the West Bank, Talia Sassoon, former head of the special tasks division in the State Attorney's Office, pointed to the assistance given by various governmental agencies, and emphasized the assistance given by "the Ministry of Defense, the IDF and the civil administration." Thus, with total chutzpah, the defense establishment, ostensibly responsible for the rule of law in the West Bank, helps break the law and harm the country's most vital political and defense needs as determined by its elected bodies.
The law prohibits supplying electricity, water or telephone services to any building built without a permit. This draconian law is enforced in Israel proper - sometimes ruthlessly. When it comes to the outposts in the West Bank, however, not only is this law not enforced, but it's actively circumvented by government ministries.
There is a further aspect to this issue. The Labor Party promised "to see to it that the illegal outposts are removed in accordance with Israel's international obligations." Labor's chairman is fully authorized, with the support of the prime minister, to fulfill this promise. Indeed, he is duty bound to protect the rule of law in the territories. By turning a blind eye to what goes on there, the Labor Party disregards the wishes of its voters.
Has there ever been a similar case in which a small determined minority frustrates the wishes of both the electorate and its representatives and causes untold harm to the interests of the state, and all with the help of governmental agencies? Has there ever been a case in which so many are required to pay such a heavy price for the actions of so few? Has there ever been a case in which an elected government declares it will do one thing and its ministers do the exact opposite? And has there ever been, or will there ever be, such a strange political creature as the Labor Party?
The writer is a professor of law at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a former minister of education and MK and the recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize in Law.