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The never-ending evacuation

Sol Salbe writes:

Unaccustomed to the treatment meted out by President Obama during their encounter, Prime Minister Netanyahu has shown interest in dismantling the illegal outposts. [All settlements are illegal but the outposts are illegal even under Israeli law.] Of course the all thing is just a show. According to a Peace Now PowerPoint presentation there were 105 such illegal outposts in 2007 and the government is talking about roughly one fifth of these - 22. Even then the normal routine is that of the revolving door where the settlers return and rebuild the outposts as soon as the soldiers have gone. Nehemia Shtrasler provides an exquisite description of how it is done below.

The never-ending evacuation
by Nehemia Shtrasler

Maoz Esther is an extremely flexible outpost. In effect, it's part of the unwritten agreement between the settlers and government. Every time the Americans apply pressure, the police get orders, start moving their equipment, and hundreds of policemen evacuate the tiny outpost. Their lives at risk, they dismantle four tin huts, two tents and one wooden building containing toilets and showers.

The next morning, the settlers return to the site, rebuild the tin huts and put the tents back up. The local council restores their electricity and water supply and removes their garbage (even though it's an illegal outpost).

And the settlers wait quietly until the next evacuation. This has happened four times at Maoz Esther, so no one really gets excited. Each side plays its part in the act, aiming to throw dirt in the Americans' eyes and divert their attention from the construction taking place all over the West Bank.

As early as April 2003, when the road map was presented, the Israeli government committed itself to dismantling 22 illegal outposts. So what. It made a commitment. Meanwhile, dozens more outposts have been set up, with a wink from the government, because we know how to con the entire world – and especially ourselves.

At this week's cabinet meeting, Benjamin Netanyahu said that "we will not set up new settlements." But in the very same breath he added that "it is not fair not to provide a solution for natural increase." The best of Israbluff: Every community in the territories occupies a nearby hill or Palestinian agricultural land, builds roads there, sets up houses and calls this "natural increase."

It's not a new settlement, it's a new neighborhood, they say. Even the new immigrants who settle there are considered "natural increase."

The settlers have one aim – to create facts on the ground to render any territorial solution impossible. Not a Palestinian state, not even a state of cantons.

They do this in two ways. They're constantly expanding, building large towns like Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim deep in Palestinian territory. And they take pains to turn the evacuation of Gush Katif into a never-ending trauma, one with an impossible economic burden that will prevent a much larger evacuation from the West Bank.

The settlers' supporters in the Knesset recently set up a state commission to examine the way the Gush Katif settlers were evicted.

The minister who represents them in the government, Habayit Hayehudi's Daniel Hershkowitz, established a special ministerial committee on the issue. It's true, they received excellent treatment and giant budgets, but what's the importance of such facts when you have a clear political agenda?

They made countless demands, and the more they got, the greater their demands, so they could discredit the government and intimidate the politicians. The first budget for their evacuation stood at NIS 3.5 billion, but it grew to NIS 7 billion because of pressures. And we're talking about a mere 1,751 households. That means the budget allocation for evacuating 25,000 families in the West Bank would be NIS 100 billion – a mighty burden that could act as a deterrent.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has promised to dismantle the 22 illegal outposts "already in the coming weeks." But anyone listening to him will laugh. He didn't even evacuate one outpost when he was Ehud Olmert's defense minister, when he had the prime minister's full support to do so. Now he's going to evacuate settlements, under Netanyahu, who actually favors expanding them?

The Yesha Council and the settlers themselves, a raucous and aggressive minority, have set our agenda for the past 40 years. They impose their political views forcefully on a majority that bends. Most Israelis favor a two-state solution, but the minority has made such a solution impossible. They plan to fight against the government's plans to evacuate outposts. They intend to block highways, set up two outposts for every one evacuated, campaign against the prime minister and pressure Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman and Shas to fight against the "government of uprooting."

But they don't really have to make such a great effort, because the dismantling of the settlements is one big act – all for the Americans' eyes. It's always possible to keep on evacuating Maoz Esther.

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Tail wags the dog

As ever, it will depend on whether the the Americans are for once serious,  or whether we are just going thru the usual Abbott and Costello vaudeville stalling tactics, which further entrenches Israel in more and more occupied land, whilst the US with a knowing wink looks the other way, whilst feigning concern.

My bet is they lack the balls for any real effort.

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