Evacuating Migron: An exercise in futility

Borderline Views: The settler movement has succeeded in thwarting the implementation of a clean-cut two-state solution.

Migron eviction (370) (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Migron eviction (370)
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
There are over 300,000 Jewish residents in West Bank settlements. It is, as Meron Benvenisteso famously wrote ( and was so strongly criticized for writing by his colleagues on the Left back in the 1980s) an irreversible situation. No Israeli government, of the Right or the Left, will ever be able to bring about an evacuation – forceful or otherwise – of so many settlers and their families.
While the settler movement, spurred on by the Gush Emunim activists and their national-religious fervor and ideology as far back as the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, may not have succeeded in implementing its dream of Jewish sovereignty over the entire West Bank, and while it was unable to prevent the signing of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, or the evacuation of Gaza six years ago, has nevertheless succeeded in thwarting the implementation of a clean-cut two-state solution.
It has achieved this through its endless political and settlement activity over a period of almost 40 years – and into the third generation of settler activists, many of whom were born, grew to adulthood and had their own children as residents of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).
It has succeeded in thwarting the idea of a two-state solution based on a simple demarcation of a border and a clean line of separation between the territories of independent Israeli and Palestinian states. Even those who for decades have believed that this is the only just solution for the two peoples living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean must surely realize that what was a realistic territorial solution until about a decade ago, and what could have ostensibly been implemented in the past, is no longer a reality, given the dynamic growth of the settler population and the intensity with which it will resist, en masse, any attempts to implement a mass evacuation.
So why does it matter anymore if a single outpost in Migron is evacuated, and fewer than 100 residents of this hilltop sub-community are forced to leave their homes? Whether Migron is defined as legal or illegal is of no significance, as is also the case with regard to the many other smaller communities and outposts which have been set up in close proximity to the larger Jewish communities and townships during the past decade.
Depending on one’s own politics, all 300,000-plus residents of the region are illegal settlers, or they are all entitled to settle throughout the ancient Jewish heartland of the Land of Israel. But both sides will agree that there is no fictitious distinction between “legal” or “illegal.”
No amount of discussion, polemics or speeches in the Knesset is going to bridge the essential political divide between these opposing positions. And no amount of formal Knesset decisions to evacuate a small community here or there is going to change the essential fact that no government of Israel, even backed by the entire army and police force, will never be able to forcefully remove an entire network of settlements, towns, schools, factories and public institutions which have even established over such a long period of time.
The relatively peaceful evacuation of 5,000 residents of Gush Katif back in 2005 is no precedent for the evacuation of 300,000 people. The potential for violent opposition, spreading well beyond the refusal to leave houses, is immense. Spurred on by the younger radical generations who have gradually taken over the political activism from their parents during the past five years, and supported – unlike the case of Gaza – by many tens of thousands of Israelis who do not live in the territories, serious violence and even fatalities in such a situation is not out of the question.
A government, any government, faced with the option of a complete breakdown of the democratic norms of the state, akin to a civil war, as contrasted with the uncertain benefits of implementing a peace agreement, and following what is generally perceived as the negative accomplishments of the Gaza withdrawal and the takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas and the continuous firing of Katyusha rockets into the south of Israel, is no longer going to opt for the mass evacuation scenario.
While in the past, an Israeli leader returning from a round of secret negotiations with a peace agreement signed and sealed could have expected automatic ratification by the Knesset, in the knowledge that no Israeli parliament would reject the opportunity to implement such an agreement, this is no longer the case.
That does not mean that any more or less Israelis are opposed to peace or to settlement evacuation in principle.
It does mean, however, that a growing number of Israelis are deeply concerned about the potential implications of witnessing endless incidents of soldiers confronting settlers and their families, including thousands of small children, to see the right-wing declaim the state’s activities as anti-democratic, to see hundreds of religious soldiers refuse to obey evacuation orders, or to see bulldozers destroy houses, schools and even synagogues (as happened in Gush Katif) and they have already come to the conclusion that it is not worth it – besides being impossible.
This view of affairs is not concerned with the rights of the Palestinians. It is concerned only with the implications for Israeli society.
So why indeed is it so important to evacuate Migron? Does the Netanyahu administration honestly believe that the international community in general, or the US in particular, buy into the government-led media message that Israel is coming down hard on the “illegals”? As far as the international community, friends and foes alike, are concerned, settlement beyond the Green Line remains illegal and constitutes an obstacle to the implementation of any future peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The undue investment of time, resources, manpower, media headlines and discussions in the evacuation of no more than some tens of people is not seen by the international community as a serious attempt by any Israeli government to deal with the settlement issue as they believe it should be dealt with.
It is a futile exercise, both in terms of Israeli domestic politics as well as its standing within the international community.
Any form of future peace agreement has to finally move away from the idea of a clean territorial separation. The notion of two states can still be accomplished, even if it is no more than the lesser evil, but it requires original and innovative solutions regarding sovereignty, citizenship and the status of land ownership.
Ironically, this endangers the status of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel who could be subject to demands for cross-citizenship within the Palestinian State, much in the same way as Israelis residing in the West Bank would demand cross-citizenship of the State of Israel.
Thus, the notion of sovereignty inside Israel itself would have to undergo change and this is certainly not an outcome which most residents of Israel would desire. This form of solution is never one-directional.
Shifting the borders into the West Bank in one place may have to be compensated with shifting the borders into Israel at another place, while cross-citizenship of West Bank Jewish residents within Israel may bring about similar cross-citizenship of Arab- Palestinian residents of Israel within a Palestinian state.
This will serve to completely change the traditional ideas of territorial sovereignty within compact and well-defined areas and territories. If this happens, then the settler movement will have served to change traditional notions of statehood in much more significant ways than it ever dreamed, or desired. They will have strengthened their own desire to remain permanent residents of the West Bank, while, at the same time, weakening Israeli sovereignty within the accepted borders of the State of Israel.
The writer is dean of the faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics, the views expressed are his alone.