Analysis: Olmert's elusive Hebron compromise

The situation underscored the near total lack of dialogue between the government and the settlers.

olmert 298 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
olmert 298 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The failure to reach a compromise yesterday with the Jewish leadership in Hebron over the disputed presence of three families in Beit Shapira underscored the almost total lack of dialogue between the Olmert government and the settlers. Kadima MK Othniel Schneller was making anxious attempts to reach a compromise that would allow both sides to climb down from their positions without the threat of another violent evacuation, like the one that took place three months ago at the Amona outpost. But despite his unofficial appointment as go-between for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the settlers, it didn't seem that either side were interested in listening to him. The police and the state's representatives at the Supreme Court were eager to get an eviction order before 30 days passed from the settlers' entering the building, by law the period in which the police can remove them without going to court. The only compromise they were willing to consider was one that would entail immediate evacuation and only after that continuing the debate over the authenticity of their lease. The settlers wouldn't even consider any solution that meant leaving the building, even temporarily, and turned down Supreme Court President Aharon Barak's offer to leave peacefully and take their case to civil court. Both sides are still raw from the battle at Amona. The pictures of mounted police charging into the young demonstrators are still fresh in the settlers' minds. The police are angry over the attacks against its officers, some of whom have had their cars torched recently. Others are being pursued in the courts by the settlers complaining of excessive violence and sexual harassment against the youngsters who held out on the roofs at Amona and pelted police with stones. Whatever form the evacuation in Hebron takes, the feeling yesterday was that the settlers aren't necessarily gearing up for a major fight this time. What's clear is that Schneller and other potential negotiators have their work cut out for them. Right now it seems that all deals are off the table. And if the harsh words that Olmert had for those who "had no respect for the rule of law" in his second, much angrier speech yesterday before being sworn in at the Knesset is any indication, the government doesn't seem to be very interested in a compromise with the settlers. On the other hand, Olmert spent over half an hour yesterday in his Knesset office, during the busy day of swearing in the new government, meeting with Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, the former settler leader, who announced his support of Kadima before the elections, in the hope that he would be able to mitigate Olmert's pullback plans. Meanwhile the fierce tones of the debate going on in the plenum, a floor above, made it clear that this term would be at least as bloody as that of the disengagement Knesset. Olmert is starting his official tenure as the most hated figure in the West Bank settlements. His intentions are clear: he means to remove at least a quarter of them to the "settlement blocs," by force if necessary. What's unclear is the majority that he commands for the implantation of his grand "convergence" plan. One party in his coalition, Shas, has already been exempted from supporting it. Many of the right-wing MKs already accused him in their speeches yesterday of planning to expel Jews without a Jewish majority. The split in Olmert's Israel is very real right now, and the festive speeches yesterday about a Knesset that will unify the country already ring very hollow.