The Israel Defense Forces must disengage from the settlers now. This process of disengagement will be difficult - the IDF is deeply invested in the settlement enterprise - but it is obligated by reality. Even before a single settler family is evacuated, the army must untie its Gordian knot with the settlers, which has bound it for many years. The time has come for it to again be the Israel Defense Forces, as intended, rather than the Settler Defense Forces, as it has been throughout the long years of occupation.
For the sake of Israeli society and also for the sake of the IDF, this disengagement is no less important than the disengagement from Gaza. Without it, it is difficult to see how the IDF will be able to fulfill its role in evacuating settlements to which it is umbilically linked. The good news is that the settlers themselves have begun to disengage. Another few incidents of employing violence against the IDF, another few humiliations of officers and soldiers, another few calls for refusing to obey orders, and the IDF will understand, the hard way, what it should have realized long ago: It must not be part of this dubious enterprise.
The IDF has accompanied the settlement enterprise from the start, back when the big lie about the "security value" of the settlements was still prevalent. Some of the first settlements sprang forth from within IDF bases, a distorted phenomenon in itself, and the boundary is sometimes blurred to this day. In Beit El, for example, IDF barracks abut the settlers' residences, illustrating the lack of a border between Yesha and the IDF. The security deployment in the territories is also a dangerous mix of the army and militias, battalion commanders and security coordinators (a job settlers perform, armed by the IDF), and it is unclear who is subordinate to whom. The commanders of what is conventionally referred to as an "apolitical" army realize that their promotion is sometimes influenced by lobbying from the Yesha council. In recent years, this symbiosis has reached new peaks. There are even cases in which settlers stand with soldiers at checkpoints and decide who will or will not pass.
Parts of the map of checkpoints and bypass roads, conditions of closure and encirclement, as well as sections of the separation fence's route, were dictated by the leaders of Yesha and designed only to meet their wishes. The settlers demanded a pointless checkpoint between Ofra and Shilo, in the Hermiya valley, and they got it - until seven soldiers and three civilians were killed there in March 2002 and the checkpoint was dismantled. Hardly a day goes by without a meeting between senior IDF officers and the settlers. A growing number of IDF commanders in the field are residents of the territories. A large part of the IDF's activities are coordinated with the most violent and unruly group in Israeli society. Why do settlers need to participate in the ceremony when a new head of the IDF Central Command is inducted? Why does the IDF chief of staff meet again and again with Yesha leaders? What does the head of the Central Command discuss on a regular basis with the Hebron settlers, as became apparent when Major General Moshe Kaplinski completed his term? After all, this is a group of lawbreakers and the very fact of fraternizing with them is an extremely grave action.
There is no other segment of the population that maintains such a close connection with the army. The chief of staff and his generals almost never meet with other components of society - human rights groups, jurists or leaders of communities that are not located in the territories. Does the mayor of Sderot have the same influence on the IDF as the settlers?
The results of this long relationship - in which the settlers have dictated the rules of behavior in the territories to the IDF - are the disgraceful scenes of recent weeks: Violence against soldiers at Yitzhar, puncturing tires of Palestinian officers who were guests of the IDF in Gush Katif, and expulsion of the Samaria Brigade commander and his soldiers from Kedumim. This took place as the head of the local council from Kedumim, Daniella Weiss, was screaming at the Samaria Brigade commander and humiliating him in front of his soldiers, finally expelling him shamefully from the settlement - a helpless IDF. However, the real question is what were the brigade commander and his soldiers doing in Kedumim in the first place? Has the IDF no facilities of its own for conducting seminars?
Undoing this knot will be difficult. From an organizational and budgetary perspective, this is a deep connection, which also became an ideological connection over the years. On the wall of every IDF command post in the territories is a placard on which the missions are detailed: One of the first of them is to protect the settlers. This mission has reached absurd proportions, to the point of accompanying the children of settlers to enrichment lessons. Meanwhile, the IDF has completely betrayed its other mission - to defend the occupied population in the territories, as obligated under international law.
Over the years, the IDF's commanders have internalized the feeling that it is the army of the settlers before being the army of the people. But this phenomenon may be coming to an end. After all the years in which the IDF groveled before the settlers and yielded to their every whim, the settlers' rebuff of the IDF may be a good sign. The IDF has already left Yitzhar and Kedumim in disgrace. Now it must make its exit from the entire settlement enterprise.
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