Analysis: Settler leaders and the outposts

The "hill dwellers" have become a law unto themselves, even if the leaders won't admit it.

masked settler hebron 88 (photo credit: )
masked settler hebron 88
(photo credit: )
There was something surreal about Sunday's meeting between the Interministerial Committee on Outposts and representatives of both the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip and Peace Now. Each side presented the committee with dossiers containing lists and maps of the various outposts, the dates when they went up and their legal status - arguments that have been going on for years - while on the ground, the IDF is carrying out Defense Minister Amir Peretz's order to be prepared for dismantling in two weeks. The ministers asked the two teams to come back with further information, but the immediate outcome will probably have little connection to the result of the legal wrangling. At least three of the outposts that are at the top of the list for evacuation were set up before the critical date of March 2001, but that probably won't make any difference to their fate. The Skally Farm, Maon Farm and Yitzhar Darom outposts are all termed "uncontrollable," neither by the authorities nor by the settlers' council. Police arriving at any of them to investigate violence against Arabs are ensured of a liberal outpouring of violence, including stone throwing and tire slashing. But council leaders also have no guarantee of visiting and leaving with their vehicles in one piece. The "hill dwellers" have become a law unto themselves and though none of the settlers' leaders will say this outright, they will also heave a sigh of relief if and when they are evacuated. One of the negotiators involved in the talks said that "those outposts whose people have resorted to violence and constantly cause friction will have to go, without any connection to their actual legal status. The government is committed to lessening the friction, and the settlers' leadership understands that." Five months ago, when council leaders were running around in Amona, being shouted at and cursed by the young demonstrators on the rooftops, the fact that they had lost control of their militant children was finally evident. That case is doubly true for those outposts whose leaders openly proclaim that they have no more faith in the state, democracy and its institutions. Even if the council was to say that it was willing to evacuate those places, it would have no effect on the ground. For that reason, while the laborious negotiations over the technicalities go on, quiet discussions are taking place to ensure that even the disagreements are agreed upon and the violence that will almost certainly break out at a number of the outposts will be well isolated. Both sides know that in the end, the official talks are a charade. Once the government decides to evacuate outposts, it won't have much trouble getting it through the courts. Neither will the courts force the government's hand if it insists that there are security reasons for not evacuating a certain outpost. Meanwhile all those involved are keen to get the most the can out of the process. The council will try to show the settlers that they tried their best and managed to secure the continued existence of some of the outposts for the time being. Defense Minister Amir Peretz wants to prove to the left wing that he is in control of the system and is capable of teaching the settlers a lesson. Peace Now has to justify its existence and donations from abroad and will carry on making noise, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wants to buy time and prove to the public that he is capable of creating a dialogue with the settlers. One outpost more or one less, his long-range plan is to get rid of all of them.