Senior army officers often equate Israel's security presence in the territories to a chair with four legs: the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service, the Civil Administration and the police.
The events that took place over the past couple of days near the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar once more cast doubts about that chair's stability. They reaffirm, though no one needed additional proof, that the ones sitting on that chair with their full weight are the settlers.
Over the past three years, the settlers have lost two bitter battles: the evacuation of Gaza and northern Samaria in the summer of 2005, and the evacuation of the West Bank outpost of Amona in early of 2006. Both were very successful losses, from the settlers' point of view. Thanks to these losses they are winning the larger campaign against the evacuation of West Bank settlements.
Four years after the Bush administration sent a letter to Ariel Sharon in which it decided in principle to evacuate the settlements outside the larger settlement blocs, George W. Bush is visiting hurricane-blighted Texas while the settlers are creating their own Texas, spanning Hebron and Samaria. No one mentions the evacuation of the settlement blocs anymore.
Ehud Olmert initiated his premiership by declaring his convergence plan. A secret letter exchange inside the Pentagon, declassified at the request of The New York Times, reveals that immediately after the 2006 elections in Israel, and on the eve of Olmert's visit to Washington, a prominent rightist figure, Frank Gaffney, tried to persuade his friend, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to get Bush to drop the plan.
The concerns of Gaffney and his associates proved premature. Olmert soon rushed forward to meet the conflagration in Lebanon, which he presented, in his delusions of victory, as leverage for going ahead with the convergence plan. That leverage ended up breaking Olmert's political neck: the settlers were saved. Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz - the man who evacuated Homesh and Netzarim - argue over everything, but remain silent when it comes to the territories.
With the cumulative failure of the Gaza pullout, Hamas' victory in the Palestinian election, its violent takeover of the Gaza Strip and Olmert's corruption scandals, the settlers gained four to six precious years, at least until the next American administration - whether under Barack Obama or John McCain - and actually until Israel's general election and the formation of a new government. That is, if that government finds the time to initiate peace talks that will lead to the evacuation of the West Bank while contending with Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.
This situation is convenient not only for politicians, but also for the officers on the ground who make up the four proverbial chair legs. Every leading officer who is nominated as head of Central Command - especially if his previous post was military secretary to the prime minister - longs to become chief of staff and avoids any foolish moves that could put him on a collision course with powerful political groups.
Division and brigade commanders have internalized the same lesson. And if some young and stubborn battalion head fails to understand that the achievement he is expected to deliver is quiet rather than justice, then there are ways to break such an officer's spirit, or his arms.
The police's high command is less afraid of the settlers than the IDF. The officers who led the Gaza pullout were not harmed, except for Uri Bar-Lev, who got embroiled in a personal dispute with Police Chief David Cohen. The commander of one of the two command posts the police deployed in Gaza, Aharon Franco, was promoted and entrusted with one of the police's most important districts - Jerusalem.
The other command post commander, Hagai Dotan, will soon be appointed head of the Samaria and Judea District. The next personnel shift within the police's ranks will promote Nisso Shaham, the Negev region commander who offended the settlers with several blatant statements about them. Perhaps people who are used to fighting crime are less impressed with the Yesha crowd.
The Shin Bet's Jewish department concerns itself only with those suspected of banding together to perpetrate terrorist acts or political subversion. Those who monitor Jewish extremists within the Shin Bet are prevented from pursuing sweeping oversight measures, as is customary when dealing with the Palestinians.
The Jewish underground gang that committed several crimes in the territories in the early 2000s, some of which remain unsolved, is now silent. But the alienation is spreading. The Shin Bet is content with maintaining the current quiet, opting to engage in dialogue with the settlers' leaders.
When the Shin Bet is asked for its opinion, it says that a new plan for evacuating settlements would cause greater agitation, which in turn would result in violence. Those who favor taking the risk of paralysis can comfortably hide behind the Shin Bet's back.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak praises the impending deal he has negotiated with the settlers to move the biggest outpost, Migron, from one point to the next. Bitter praise indeed. The deal reflects the authorities' usual helplessness. Barak displays an amazing ability to analyze existing situations, like some eternal national security adviser, but he lacks the daring leadership necessary to alter the situations he is busy analyzing.
Relocating some, though not all, outposts instead of evacuating them, while steering clear of uprooting the settlements, which are a burden instead of an asset, demonstrated to everyone - Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians and Americans - that the people who presume to lead Israel are scared of their own shadows.
Under such circumstances the prospects of making headway in the peace talks, which entail giving back territory instead of going ahead with unilateral pullouts, is nil.
Barak enjoys repeating the mantra that "words don't stop missiles and declarations don't freeze centrifuges" when referring to Iran. But when speaking about Yitzhar, declarations are worthless.
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