Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has made it clear that before he undertakes the execution of his convergence plan he will conduct a campaign of dialogue with the settler community to reach an agreement with them on the move. Against the background of the internal split caused by the disengagement, Olmert promised to make a special effort to reach national conciliation, and he expressed hope his expectations will be met.
His approach is correct as long as he is not swept into accepting dictates from the settlers of Judea and Samaria, who have been in a rebellious mood for the last seven months, a mood that does not suggest readiness to accept the authority of the state. The settler public came out of the evacuation of Gaza and part of northern Samaria area badly wounded. The state destroyed their life's work and brought their world tumbling down around them. Their crisis has many facets: in their personal lives, in their approach to Israeli society, in the hierarchic organizations to which they belonged.
Since last September, the settlers of Judea and Samaria, and not only the evacuees, feel that their personal existence is threatened. They remember the sight of the bulldozers destroying homes of friends in the Strip and worry about a similar fate. They are also aware of the high personal price paid by the evacuees in every dimension of their lives.
Those who closely follow the moods of the settlers report existential anxiety, an undermined confidence in their ability to maintain the routines of daily life, difficult questions posed by children to their parents, who have no credible, soothing answers. Many of them have reached the same conclusion: The state betrayed them, and they cannot trust its leadership.
They feel repressed and embittered. They regard themselves as a community that secular society and its elected representatives reject because of prejudices and negative branding (we're being screwed because we wear skullcaps, they say).
The crisis is also expressed in the way the Yesha Council was smashed, and in the collapse of its organizational hierarchy and leadership. Because of the responsible manner the settler leadership chose as its course leading up to the withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria, and during it, the leadership lost its ranking stature among the settlers. At least some of them regard Bentzi Lieberman and his colleagues as a failed clique, because they did not manage to foil the authorities' plans. Similarly some of the yeshivat hesder rabbis have also lost their standing, as have some settlement rabbis.
The settlers now maintain contacts with some local rabbis and leaders without a clear hierarchy. Apparently, the old order, which guaranteed obedience to an official, recognized leadership, is no longer valid. The convergence around certain rabbis and spiritual leaders, because of identification with their halakhic or political approach, also appears to have the image of a collective organization. There are some observers who fear it could eventually lead in the future to a para-military structure.
Olmert, therefore, correctly diagnosed the mood of the settlers and is right to try to reach an understanding with them before he imposes upon them the (partial) withdrawal from the West Bank, which, he says, will be the centerpiece of his government's activity. The move is becoming imperative, if not urgent, in light of the timetable he drew at the beginning of the week: to complete the execution of the disengagement plan within two years. But he should know how to set a limit: to listen to the settlers, but not fawn before them.
In the winding and cruel loop that the minister of history is drawing, the settlers have reached that point in time where they also must realize their role is over. Their status as the most precious offspring of the Israeli establishment has been turned into something else - the accepted convention that they are actually a bone in its throat. That was true in Gush Katif and it is just as true in Judea and Samaria.
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