Settlers, You Have Failed

Israeli leaders credit the creation of the settlements for bringing about the Oslo process. But it is doubtful whether that is what their founders had prayed for.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has declared his intention of eliminating all settlements beyond the separation fence in the West Bank within the next four years, as well as evacuating some 70,000 settlers from their homes, resettling them, and closing ourselves within a unilateral border. The idea is not new: former prime minister Ehud Barak spoke of it in 2001, and Ariel Sharon began to carry it out with the disengagement from Gaza and northern Samaria. But this is the first time that an incumbent prime minister is declaring his intention of dismantling dozens of settlements, and nothing is happening. No demonstrations and protests, no rebellion within the party, and no media uproar. Olmert's message sounds natural, understood, and not revolutionary.

This is the time to tell the Yesha (Judea, Samaria and Gaza) settlers: You have failed. Your grandiose project, which is about to be dismantled, has registered a triple failure. The first failure was in achieving the ultimate goal. The settlers did not succeed in attracting enough Jews to the hilltops of Samaria and cliffs of Judea to establish irreversible facts on the ground and prevent return of the territories. They did not even succeed in approaching demographic parity with the Palestinians, which would have led to an imposed coexistence.

The second failure was in the settlers' disengagement from the public, through their sense of superiority over the hedonists from the center of the country. Even during the days of the British Mandate, which the settlers like to recall with longing, only a few people joined the "wall and stockade" settlements (which were established overnight in the country's peripheral areas), and the majority remained in Tel Aviv. But the settlers who set out to establish facts and expand the area of Jewish settlement came from the consensus and remained within it. The hilltop settlers were and remain on the margins, as the orange days of summer demonstrated. Opponents of the evacuation remained in their isolation from one demonstration to the next, and the majority only wanted the nightmare to end.

The third failure was security related. The settlements did not bring quiet, and when the war broke out, they proved to be irrelevant. The Palestinian suicide bombers bypassed them on their way to blowing themselves up in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Netanya, and they remained in isolation on the hilltops like the turrets of the Maginot Line. Only the fence, which heralded the end of the settlements, stopped the terror. Even opponents of Olmert's withdrawal, members of the "security-oriented right," such as Likud chair Benjamin Netanyahu and former chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon, are now assigning the settlements only the humiliating role of "negotiating chips" and convenient targets for Hamas. The human price to be paid by the settlers does not interest them.

The dimensions of the failure are astonishing when we recall the conditions under which the settlements were established. The Gush Emunim settlement movement considered them a fulfillment of a divine promise, but implementation was totally secular. One government after another showered land, budgets and infrastructure on the settlers. More important, the state has, for decades, been facing determined international opposition to settlement beyond the Green Line, and has agreed to withstand condemnations and boycotts only to maintain the houses with the red-tiled roofs there. And none of that helped the tremendous project that will soon be thrown into the garbage heap.

Israeli leaders note two achievements of the settlements: they pushed the late Palestinian Authority chair Yasser Arafat into becoming more flexible, and they gradually brought about the Oslo process. But it is doubtful whether that is what their founders had prayed for. And they provide a certain hope for moving the Green Line eastward in the "blocs" where a Jewish majority has been created. But they will be populated by people seeking convenience and cheap housing, who have not come in order to fulfill a religious and national mission.

Olmert's declarations herald the end of the dream of populating the hilly areas and the Jordan Valley with Jews. His test will be in his ability to implement. The test will not be simple, and it is doubtful whether it will stop on the line planned by Olmert: Experience has shown that all governments, from Yitzhak Shamir to Sharon, ended their terms of office much further to the left than the point at which they began.