Analysis: Quelling the flames of the freeze

Analysis Quelling the f

settlers border police clash tzofim 298. (photo credit: Courtesy of the Council of Samaria Settlers)
settlers border police clash tzofim 298.
(photo credit: Courtesy of the Council of Samaria Settlers)
Almost a month has passed since the government imposed a freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank, and violence between security forces and settlers continues to flare - even to intensify, according to some in the security establishment. On Tuesday, a Border Policewoman was moderately wounded when she was allegedly assaulted by a group of settlers at the entrance to the settlement of Tzofim. The settlers presented a different account of the incident, claiming that the police were aggressive and that 11 residents of Tzofim were wounded during the clashes. Hitting or throwing a rock at a member of the security forces - whether from the IDF or the Israel Police - is no longer taboo, security sources assess. And the expectation in the defense establishment is that when, or rather if, the peace process advances with the Palestinians, settler violence will increase too. Watch footage of clashes between settlers, security forces in Tzofim: According to some assessments, there are several dozen settlers in the West Bank who would not hesitate to use extreme violence to try to thwart the evacuation of a settlement. Within this group of several dozen, in turn, there are believed to be a small handful who would be prepared to target politicians in an effort to stop a withdrawal. While for most Israelis, the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 is a vague memory, that is not the case for the settlement enterprise, and especially for the most ideologically driven of the settlers. The wound is still raw, and successive governments bear much of the blame because of the inadequate handling of the needs of the evacuated settlers from Gush Katif. A readiness on the margins of the settlement movement for subsequent open confrontation was plain during the forced evacuation and demolition of several homes at the illegal outpost of Amona in February 2006. There, unprecedented clashes erupted between settlers and security forces, with the latter slammed by a Knesset inquiry for using excessive force. The events of the past few weeks are a direct continuation of the disengagement and Amona. Defense Minister Ehud Barak's decision to sever the IDF's ties with the Har Bracha hesder yeshiva, the moratorium on settlement construction and the possibility that talks will renew between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are all reasons for the Jewish settlers in the West Bank to be concerned. And that concern has been evidenced in a spate of confrontations since the moratorium was imposed, including ongoing efforts to prevent building inspectors entering settlements to investigate potential infractions. At the same time, the violence that security forces trying to distribute moratorium orders are encountering is of concern for the government as well as for the defense establishment. If this is the response they encounter when trying to distribute stop-work orders, what level of resistance might these forces face if they are ordered to evacuate a settlement? While the severing of ties with the Har Bracha yeshiva, due to Rabbi Eliezer Melamed's endorsement of insubordination, is widely perceived as being a correct and necessary step by the IDF, it could have a detrimental effect on religious-military relations. Already on Monday, hesder graduates sent a petition to Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi warning that they will not report for reserve duty in the future. At the moment, the IDF is trying to keep itself out of the political debate on the moratorium. It is helped by the fact that most of the work is being done by the Civil Administration and the Border Police. The IDF is trying so hard to stay out of the fray that even though the operation is being overseen by the Central Command, the press is being handled by the Civil Administration and not by the IDF Spokesman's Office as could have been expected. This is in line with Ashkenazi's policy that the IDF should not be involved in settlement evacuations. Firstly, this policy stems from a traditional belief that the IDF's job is to fight against external enemies, not other Jews. The stance makes additional sense when considering that many of today's combat soldiers come from these same settlements. The problem is that this policy may not be sustainable in the long-term. Indeed, sources in the Central Command admitted this week that if violence in the settlements continued to escalate, the IDF would likely have no choice but to begin playing a more active role.