Analysis: Spoiling for a fight

Peretz has moved the outpost with the most violent inhabitants to the top of the list for evacuation.

amona clashes 298.88  (photo credit: AP [file])
amona clashes 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The presence of Prisons Service officers at Wednesday's briefing for the various security forces tasked with evacuating outposts shows that this time the government really means business. Not only is there going to be a serious showdown, but the police are aware that they're looking at a violent clash and dozens of arrests. That doesn't seem to be deterring Defense Minister Amir Peretz in the least. On the contrary, he's moved the outpost with the most violent inhabitants to the top of the list. The outposts have been an issue for the last seven years, ever since Ehud Barak came to power, but despite tough talk, the preferred policy was usually compromise with the settler leadership and the dismantling of mostly empty hilltops. Most of the evacuation scares blew over when the government of the day decided that it had more urgent matters to deal with than a traumatic confrontation with thousands of youths. Despite repeated assurances to the US administration that a long list of outposts would cease to exist and the Sasson Report that no less than 105 outposts were illegal, the government has rarely seemed eager to carry out its own decisions. Ultimately the timing of dismantling them has always been political. In the year leading up to the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the thinking was that calm should be maintained for as long as possible before the big show and operations against small outposts would just be a distraction. The relatively peaceful implementation of disengagement proved that it made sense not raising tensions in advance. The battle at Amona five months ago followed the trauma of Gush Katif and came after Ariel Sharon was incapacitated. The official reason for the destruction of nine houses at Amona was a High Court order in response to a Peace Now petition, but the government could have used a number of excuses to find an easy way out. As one adviser of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said after the order had been carried out, "We proved to the settlers that Olmert is no pushover." More importantly, they proved to the voters that Olmert was prepared to be as tough toward the settlers as Sharon. Peretz also has something to prove. The poor guy is under fire from every possible quarter. Two weeks ago his problems were only in the political field. Within the Labor Party, he was being challenged by social-minded MKs threatening to vote against the budget and the "rebel quintet" was forming to fight against his leadership. All the while Peretz was fighting to assert his leadership vis- -vis Olmert. Now he's beginning to discover just how poisoned a chalice the Defense Ministry is as the whole world is attacking him over the Kassam war, from the right wing in the Knesset and the cabinet to his own neighbors in Sderot who are protesting outside his house. It seems like nothing can go right. While he's drawing fire for not allowing the IDF to act more forcefully against the Kassam gangs, left-wing intellectuals are signing petitions blaming him for the slaughter of Palestinian children every time an air force missile goes slightly off course. Taking on the outposts is about the only thing Peretz can do to emphasize to his constituency that he is actually achieving something as defense minister. He has nothing to lose by gaining the enmity of the settlers, having never made himself out to be their friend. That is also the reason that instead of acting against the 24 outposts on the list intended for evacuation by the government, he is currently planning to go for the four most involved in violent altercations with Palestinians and the security forces. Peretz has made it quite clear that he has no plans to even negotiate with those he considers outlaws. His advisers naturally deny there are any political considerations in play, but admit that he is bringing into play a new "moral policy" in which outposts which are openly defying the law will be shown no quarter. The more extreme element among the settlers believes that the essentially peaceful in which way most of the evacuees in Gush Katif greeted those coming to evict them was a grave tactical mistake. They hope that the violence at Amona and the threat of worse to come will act as a deterrent. The way things seem now, the inevitability of a clash is actually spurring Peretz on.