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It is hard to believe that when Defense Minister Ehud Barak is offering to legalize some of the outposts, he does not remember what was written in the road map agreement. Just to make sure, here is a quotation from the document: "The Government of Israel will immediately dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001. ... Consistent with the Mitchell Report, GOI freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)."

If Israel is seeking discounts in the settlement provision, why shouldn't the Palestinians seek discounts in the war on terror provision? Will Barak agree to letting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not disarm some of the Hamas armed men in return for Israel not taking down some of the outposts?

It is hard to believe that Barak does not know that laundering outposts, the vast majority of which are built on private Palestinian land, is liable to cause the crib death of the negotiations on the core issues. If Israel is not capable of evacuating a few dozen lawbreakers, who is going to relate seriously to a permanent status agreement, which would necessitate the evacuation of 70,000 to 80,000 "legal" settlers?

It is also hard to believe that Barak does not know what an agreement with the settlers is worth. It has taken Prime Minister Ehud Olmert years to learn what the defense minister has managed to forget about "outpost theory." Many of these outposts are chalked up to Barak; a few of them arose under his very nose when he was Central Command chief. Some of them appeared when he was chief of staff. Many received a kashrut certificate from him during the brief period when he was both prime minister and defense minister.

The Labor Party leader has been blessed with a long memory, and it is unlikely that he has forgotten the fate of his previous outpost agreement. In October 1999, when he was prime minister, he struck a deal with settler leaders under which 10 outposts would be evacuated voluntarily, and in exchange 32 others would receive legal status.

"The sites that will be evacuated will continue to remain under settlement control, and agricultural and other activities can be conducted there," the Yesha Council of settlements informed its members in a letter. "We have sanctified the building of the land, and not the government's victory."

The agricultural and "other" activity became, as always, building projects. On the eve of the agreement, the settlers pulled a fast one on Barak, and hauled in four empty mobile homes that they subsequently removed with great to-do. The rest of the outposts gradually returned to where they had been. And what reason does Barak have to believe that this successful trick won't be repeated?

Barak's behavior in the outpost evacuation affair joins his refusal in removing roadblocks. Both of these are strengthening the suspicion of Olmert's associates that Barak is prepared to do almost anything so that no one else will succeed where he failed seven years ago. Lieutenant General (res.) Amnon Lipkin-Shahak said on Sunday at a conference, "Agreement Within a Year," held in Herzliya by the Geneva Accord backers, "The roadblocks are harsher on the Palestinian population now than they were seven years ago."

Champion bullies

Havat Maon, which should have been evacuated under Barak's 1999 outpost agreement, is competing with Havat Gilad for the title of outpost champion in bullying Palestinians. These two outposts - ranches, as they are called in Hebrew - in the Hebron Hills and in the Nablus area, star in a report by Yesh Din - Volunteers for Human Rights on 13 attacks on Palestinians during the past nine months. In each of these cases, human rights organizations have helped the Palestinian victims file complaints against their attackers. However, in many cases the victims do not even bother to go to the police, because reality teaches that most complaints go nowhere. According to Yesh Din figures, 300 complaints involving settler harassment of West Bank Palestinians were filed in 2005. Based on a sample by the organization, 90 percent were closed without indictments.

b June 2007, near Havat Gilad: Sadek Ahmad Yusuf Tawil, a 66-year-old farmer from the village of Fara'ata, reported that two masked settlers demanded he give them the stick in his hands. When he refused, one of the settlers beat him with an iron chain. He lost consciousness and needed four stitches to his head.

b July 2007, near Havat Gilad: Tareq Sadek Ahmad Tawil said some 30 settlers entered Fara'ata, fired into the air, beat up a cattle herd owner and threw stones. Soldiers who had arrived in an army Jeep with the settlers did not prevent the disturbances, and when the villager turned to them for help, they threatened to shoot him if he did not leave the area.

b July 2007, near Lahiya and Esh Kodesh: Two men on horseback attacked four Palestinian youths from the village of Qursa as they were herding their flocks. The attackers grabbed Iman Taysir Farah, beat him up and left him naked by the roadside, handcuffed and unconscious. Farah was hospitalized for four days. After a brief investigation, with the help of photos taken during the attack, the Judea and Samaria police arrested several settlers. An indictment has been drawn up against one, and the rest of the cases are awaiting a hearing.

b September 2007, near Havat Maon: A group of settlers attacked volunteers from the Christian Peacemaking Team who were accompanying Palestinians from the village of al-Fakra as they herded their flocks. The settlers threw stones at the shepherds and volunteers, and stole a video camera.

b October 2007, near Havat Gilad: After coordinating with the army, Ibrahim Sabahi Abed al-Rani Id and his son left the village of Jinis Afuyat to harvest the family's olives. Within a few minutes, settlers from the outpost arrived and started to shove them and throw stones at them. The settlers were arrested and immediately released, "because of the sanctity of the Sabbath."

b October 2007, near Havat Gilad: Six settlers threw stones at four men, six women and four or five children from the village of Tal who were harvesting olives in a family-owned grove. Abed al-Fatah Othman, who was gathering olives from the ground, felt a blow to his head and lost consciousness.

Barak is passing the buck for the outpost failure to the enforcement authorities. In a lecture last week, the sovereign in the territories said the legal system is behaving clumsily and slowly when it comes to bringing right-wing activists to trial, and that the Judea and Samaria District police lacks resources.

A week earlier, a front-page headline in Haaretz said indictments would be filed against settlers who had broken into the home of a Palestinian woman near the settlement of Kedumim and staked her ground for a new settlement called Shvut Ami. The Defense Minister's Bureau reported proudly, "For the first time in recent years, steps have been taken against people who establish outposts." Defense Ministry sources added that the new policy will be expanded.

Last Wednesday, a Yesh Din representative visited Shvut Ami. He found that after eight evacuations and innumerable applications by the organization to the authorities, the outpost is manned by a band of youths, who are even building a second story.

Old loyalties

Meanwhile, the other chief of staff in the cabinet, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, the proud father of quite a number of outposts, is honing his sword in advance of the publication of the final Winograd report. In a meeting with peace activists last weekend, he said, "The management of the Second Lebanon War was a confused failure." No less.

A study by Major General (res.) Dr. Yossi Ben-Ari of the cabinet during the war gives Mofaz significant responsibility for the failure - if not by commission, then by omission. He found the evidence for this in Mofaz's own testimony before the Winograd committee. "During war time it is very important to voice your opinion, and I voiced my opinion," said Mofaz at the start of his testimony, "but the second time, you can't come out against the defense establishment."

The cabinet member went on to explain: "Both the prime minister and some of the ministers found themselves approving everything the army recommended." The man who partakes of the collective responsibility for the government's decisions also said, "From the moment they have already decided how to act and have brought it to you, all you have to do is support it or express a reservation, and not get into a confrontation every other day about everything the army or the defense establishment proposes."

Mofaz is not alone. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, who entered politics from the Shin Bet security service, preferred to maintain his loyalty to his colleagues from his previous incarnation. In relating to the July 14 cabinet discussion, at which he opposed the attack on the Dahiyeh quarter in Beirut, he said, "It was very difficult for me at this meeting, because everyone was putting out vibes - I know those situations, I myself was sitting on that side, the military-security side, not too long ago, and I know exactly how people feel when they suddenly see that part of the government isn't eager for battle. And on top of that, they still saw me as someone who 'hadn't had time to become spoiled yet,' and in any case it was hard. It was not popular at that meeting to object to an attack."

"Absurdly, both Mofaz and Dichter are in effect signaling that it was precisely where they had come from that poorly served them once they had risen to the country's top leadership," writes Ben-Ari. "Instead of behaving like people who have the full legitimization to express an opinion and to fight for it on the basis of what they have done, they prefer to refrain from constructive and justified criticism, so as not to appear to be interfering with the security forces."