The cabinet, which is to adopt the Sasson report on the methods of establishing and financing illegal outposts, should remember that another report is on the way - the one being prepared by Baruch Spiegel on the status of each of the settlements in the West Bank. The ministers who adopt the Sasson report today are putting their heads into the noose of the Spiegel report.
Not that the government has a choice. The assigning of Sasson and Spiegel to dig out the serpentine burrows, through which government energies traveled in creating 122 settlements and some 105 unauthorized outposts in the West Bank, did not result from a burst of longing for proper government. It stemmed from President George W. Bush's breath on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's neck.
In a speech at the UN General Assembly last September, Bush declared that Israel must enforce a freeze on settlements, remove illegal outposts, avoid establishing new settlements and stop construction in existing settlements, except within existing boundaries.
That is the price Sharon agreed to pay in exchange for the achievements of his April 2004 meeting with Bush, in which the Americans agreed to disengagement and to support Israel's position on the right of return, and the (apparent) presidential acquiescence to Israel's retaining large settlement blocs, as well as American rejection of any plan that is not the road map.
When the Sharon government sought to implement disengagement, it encountered such great difficulties that it had to admit to Bush's representatives that it could not do it. It could not define construction boundaries in each of the settlements and failed to remove the unauthorized outposts.
Sasson and Spiegel were appointed, with the blessing of the United States, to supply the informational and legal basis to execute the Israeli promises. In the process, Israel was shamefully revealed to be a third world country, in which the government cheats itself and allows a quasi-underground network to manage its own policies. The government ostensibly does not authorize these policies, but in practice it turns a blind eye to them and feigns surprise at the outcome. In certain South American countries, that's how the drug trade operates.
The Sasson report is chump change; the real McCoy is hidden in Baruch Spiegel's filing cabinet. Sasson dealt with illegal outposts; Spiegel is dealing with every one of the legal settlements: how they came about, how they are managed and financed, how their lands were defined, their legal status, what construction areas were authorized, and their legal boundaries. If the Sasson report raised a storm, the Spiegel report will generate a tsunami.
Only God knows how Ariel Sharon got mixed up in this contradiction. It's not the first time in his life that he has supplied the ax that destroys his own work. In this case, the state comes out ahead: Sasson and Spiegel will be remembered as the great stable cleaners who exposed the dark lairs of the regime to the purifying light of the sun.
Still, there is one small doubt: With the same cynicism by which Sharon appointed Sasson to rout out the phenomenon of illegal outposts, which the prime minister lent a hand to build, he can cause her conclusions and recommendations to melt away, through the manner in which the government decides to implement the report today.
But there's a fly in the ointment of the Spiegel report: The man has been at work on it for nine months; an update Friday said it is progressing, but there's no telling when it will be finished. The main task is to channel all the information into a geographic computer program that will produce categories of data as requested.
It sounds reasonable enough, but it doesn't remove the suspicion that there is deliberate foot-dragging at work.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now