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Two weeks ago, aides of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised that in a week's time at least five illegal outposts would be evacuated. A week went by and not a brick was lifted from those settlements, not even a nail pulled. On the contrary. In a number of outposts there has been a construction spree. And, as if this was not enough, representatives of the American National Security Council visiting Israel last week were asked to show understanding for Israel's claims that it is facing operational and legal obstacles that are preventing the government from lifting the illegal outposts.

This sly technique repeats itself. When the government is asked by international elements to alter the route of the separation fence, it begins to feign innocence and says: What's the hurry? After all, it is a security obstacle whose purpose is temporary. When we arrive at the desired moment of signing a permanent agreement with the Palestinians, we will move the fence to the position established by the accord. After all, we have already shown - in the negotiations with Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt - our willingness to determine the recognized international boundary and set up security fences accordingly.

And when Israel is called upon to dismantle the outposts that it itself identifies as illegal (or, in the language of the official laundromat, "not authorized"), it adopts a righteous attitude and says: Why are you so insistent? After all, we have already declared our intention to evacuate all the settlements from the Gaza Strip, and another four from northern Samaria, so why pester us on our commitment to get rid of a few small outposts?

This is similar to someone who owes a debt but tells the person whom he owes: You are demanding a million shekels from me, and you agree that I am willing to seriously consider your demand. What are you bothering me for another NIS 100,000 for? Stop being petty. Let us first complete the discussions on the big debt.

What is troubling are the real difficulties the government is encountering in its wish to fulfill its commitment: Israel says to the Americans - who are the only ones to whom it feels accountable - that it lacks the power to evacuate the outposts. It is asking the Americans for consideration for "operational difficulties" that are preventing the fulfillment of its obligations. In other words, the government of Israel, headed by someone who is commonly described as an unstopable bulldozer, admits that it is unable to impose its will on the settlers, who manage to foil its intention to evacuate them from the illegal points of settlement they have established. The Israel Defense Forces claims it needs 1,000 soldiers and assistance from the various police branches in order to remove one of these outposts. Indeed, the scenes created by the evacuation efforts suggest an embarrassing failure on the part of the authorized organs of the state. There is no doubt that in the struggle between the law enforcers and those violating the law, the latter have the upper hand.

The violent opposition of the settlers to the evacuation of the illegal outposts is a reflection of a culture of disregard for the law that blossomed in the territories; a sense of unbridled power, of righteous belief and the conviction of being on the correct path. Collectively these qualities, fed by the armed Palestinian opposition to the occupation, embolden the settlers to bully their Palestinian neighbors, to kill them, take their lands, ignore the demands of the state authorities. Armed with religious ideology, they place themselves above the law. This attitude has become second nature to them and is manifested also in the confrontations between the settlers and the official representatives of the state.

It is, therefore, not surprising that as preparations for the implementation of the disengagement plan get under way, those responsible for carrying it out are becoming increasingly concerned that it will be impossible to execute their assignment because of the settlers' opposition and the backing of those behind them. The looming danger to the plan's implementation is not found only in the doubts of the political echelon but also in the forbidding forces that have been building up in the territories. Whoever needs proof of the effects of such conditions is welcome to take a look at the events in Gaza this past day or so, where the extent of the breakdown is evident on the ground, as the central authority is not applying its controls.