During his first months as defense minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer would brush off those who gave him a hard time about the settlements by saying they were nothing more than a handful of deserted mobile homes. He even managed to convince a number of journalists to come down hard on the findings - inflated, as he termed them - of Peace Now. In recent months, after the settlers themselves confirmed Peace Now's principal figures, the defense minister explained that in the army, he had been taught that "if you're being shot at from 16 directions, the right thing to do is to return fire toward the most dangerous source of the shooting." And the moral of the story speaks for itself: Now, it is more important to fight terrorism and advance the peace; the settlements are not the most pressing problem and now is not the time to open a front against the settlers.
Some 10 days ago, on the very eve of the Labor Party convention, it appeared as if Ben-Eliezer had decided, purely by chance, that his busy agenda could be cleared slightly of terrorism and peace in favor of dealing with the illegal settlements. The minister, so it appeared, had discovered the connection between taking control of Palestinian land, on the one hand, and terrorism and peace, on the other.
Ben-Eliezer announced that the initial stage would see the dismantling and evacuation of 11 illegal outposts, promising to, among others, U.S. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer, that the next stage would soon follow.
Reports in the media, including on television, revealed a disparity between the minister's announcement and the reality on the ground at the sites of the evacuated outposts. This week, a Peace Now settlement watch team went out to get a close look at the situation in the field. (In light of IDF opposition "for security reasons," Peace Now has stopped its aerial monitoring of the settlements and its members are risking driving through the heart of the territories.)
The bottom line of the most recent survey conducted by the organization reads as follows: Out of a total of 34 sites - most of which are populated - that appear on the list of outposts that Peace Now submitted to the defense minister, the only one to have been evacuated was Ya'ar Suda (Migdal Oz West). In addition, two outposts that were not included on the list - Nahalei Tal and an outpost east of Ma'aleh Haver - had also been evacuated. At the first site, two mobile homes that were already in an advanced state of ruin were destroyed; at the second, two unpopulated cargo containers were moved into the area of the Neria (Talmon North) settlement; and at the third, an empty trailer home was evacuated.
With respect to the other sites mentioned in the defense minister's announcement, the following findings were recorded:
1. Sites known to the Peace Now team that, contrary to the announcement by the defense minister, have not been evacuated and remain intact: Bat Ayin West and Givat Rehavam, which lies south of Beit Hagai.
2. Sites that appear on the list of evacuated outposts and are not known by the organization, which has no information to confirm that they had been settled or evacuated at any stage: Hahava Hahakla'it, Migdalim South, New Neveh Erez, Adam East and Adam West.
3. Sites known to the organization, which believes that they were never outposts and hence could not have been evacuated: Kida (a deserted military base east of Shvut Rahel).
Peace Now has photographs verifying all the particulars that appear in its report.
Summary: In actual fact, only abandoned outposts, or "dummy outposts," as they are termed by Yesha Council spokespersons, were evacuated. Not a single permanently-manned site out of those marked on the Peace Now map, which was submitted to the defense minister more than three months ago, has been evacuated. The settlers are continuing to disperse empty containers on hills throughout the territories and make a fool of the defense establishment. It appears that they are relying on the fact that the interests of the defense minister are devoted to more burning issues.
Till now, the tactic has proved itself: Since Ben-Eliezer became defense minister, 45 new settlement sites have been established in the territories - five more sites than were established during the terms of the Netanyahu and Barak governments put together.
A response from the defense minister's office said that all the outposts that had appeared on the list had been dismantled, as stated in the original announcement.
Fooling the IDF
In off-the-record conversations, sources in the defense establishment admit their helplessness. Yesterday, members of the State Control Committee were afforded the unique opportunity to register the findings in the Knesset record. Opposition leader MK Yossi Sarid (Meretz) presented the members of the committee with the Peace Now report on "the evacuated outposts" and asked the representatives of the Defense Ministry to explain why most of the illegal settlement sites remained intact.
The defense minister's adviser, Yossi Vardi, explained how difficult it was to locate the outposts and that the settlers gave the sites an infinite number of names so as to confuse the enemy - pardon me, the IDF. The adviser said that the IDF was buckling under the burden and was unable to keep track of the occupancy status at the 69 outposts that were constantly being set up and dismantled throughout the territories.
Sarid says that yesterday he was convinced beyond a doubt that "Fuad is the settlers' collaborator who, with them, has woven a conspiracy to whitewash wrongdoing and pull the wool over the eyes of the public."
Corroboration for Sarid's claim can be found in the correspondence taking place these days between the opposition leader's party colleague, MK Mussi Raz, and the defense minister. On May 28, Raz wrote to Ben-Eliezer saying that he had become aware that contrary to the defense minister's promise, the IDF was continuing to mobilize reserve soldiers on emergency orders for the purpose of security duty at the settlements in the territories. Soldiers who were called up some two months ago, on the eve of Shavuot, have been ordered to report for service on Sunday. Raz argued that the difference between an emergency order and a tzav 8 was purely semantic.
The defense minister's response: "The reservists to whom the MK is referring were not called up by an emergency order, but by a regular reserve duty order that was issued with irregular advance notification, with its mission being the defense of the homeland." The letter was accompanied by an appendix pointing out the differences between a tzav 8 and an order with irregular advance notification. The letter does not include a single word about the disruption of the lives of law-abiding citizens for the purpose of defending the lives of outlaws.
Ben-Eliezer seems to have learned from his boss the trick of quietly setting up dummy hindrances so as to later remove them with much fanfare. They are ignoring dozens of illegal settlements, tossing a dummy outpost or two to the "lefties" in the party, and there you have a great reason to remain in the Sharon government.
At first, the settlements are given guards by virtue of tzav 8 call-ups; then they give instructions to make do with irregular orders. Aren't the reservists lucky to have Ben-Eliezer sitting in the defense minister's bureau.
Sharon and Ben-Eliezer are planning the next trick together. The prime minister, seemingly underhandedly, pushed through the law proposal for the allocation of state lands to Jews only; Ben-Eliezer seems to be stirring up a large crisis; and Sharon will seemingly give in to the Labor Party and agree to amend the law, which, in any event, has no chance of passing the High Court of Justice test. The main thing is that in the end, Dalia Itzik will be able to explain to the radio, from her cell phone in her Volvo, how she and her fellow Laborites managed to rescue the people of Israel from the racist plot of Limor Livnat and Haim Druckman, her peace coalition colleagues.
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