Let the Chips Fall Where They May

If I were a settler, I would be worried - not because I live in an area where driving on the roads is like Russian roulette, but because the settlements are increasingly becoming a form of legal tender.

If I were a settler, I would be worried - not because I live in an area where driving on the roads is like Russian roulette, or because a battalion of soldiers escorts my kids to music lessons. I would be worried mainly because the settlements are increasingly becoming a form of legal tender.

Last week, it was reported that the IDF has devised a barter plan under which Israel would evacuate a number of settlements in return for Palestinian agreement to establish a Palestinian state in part of the territories and to defer a final settlement. The "bargaining chips" plan encompassed all the settlements in the Gaza Strip and two or three settlements in the West Bank.

On the day that report appeared, Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon asserted that leaving settlements "under terrorism and violence will endanger us," and that it makes more sense to station a battalion to protect a settlement, as leaving the settlement will bring about a situation in which a larger military force is needed.

This would appear to be a contradiction between two approaches in the same army. One proposes partial withdrawal within the framework of an agreement for the sake of political gains, and perhaps to calm the area.

The other approach, as spelled out by the chief of staff, rejects any withdrawal since he believes it is capitulation to terrorism. One approach believes that there are people on the Palestinian side we can do business with, whereas the chief of staff is waiting to see whether what he calls the "chemotherapy" treatment that the IDF is administering in the territories will succeed. Only after that will Israel - perhaps - be able to find interlocutors.

In fact, there is no difference between the two approaches in regard to the property value of the settlements. Both the advocates of withdrawal in return for a deferral of the final agreement, and the chief of staff, view the settlements - at least some of them - as no more than bargaining chips. The first group wants to gain time until the disappearance of Yasser Arafat from the scene and until Israel acquires a positive political image. The chief of staff is concerned about what will become of the prestige of the IDF, and hence its deterrent capability, if it leaves settlements under pressure.

According to Ya'alon's equation, if things calm down it will definitely be possible to talk about leaving settlements, as long as it doesn't look like we are fleeing from them. The chief of staff was not asked and did not comment on whether maintaining illegal outposts is part of that prestige.

It is to be hoped that as the army goes about examining what benefit might accrue to it from the settlements or from leaving them, it will also leave the public and the government a role to play. This is because the settlements are more than a security asset or burden and must not be adopted as a criterion by which to gauge the IDF's deterrent capability. The settlements are the embodiment of a national world view that seeks to erase borders and expand the area under Israel's control.

The government of Israel has every right to decide it will not dismantle settlements because that is its ideology. At the same time, the public has the right to invoke the basic idea underlying the barter concept proposed by the army, and certainly the remarks of the chief of staff, to conclude that the settlements have only commercial and prestige value - meaning they have a political market price. That asset is waiting for an opportunity, and to be able to realize its value, someone has to put it on the market.

A government that truly wishes to further a political process, or that does not want any such development, does not need a military cloak, a Lebanon complex or a Joseph's Tomb syndrome in order to conceal its impotence and thereby give the army the authority to set the political agenda.

As for military prestige, anyone who is apprehensive that if the IDF leaves places like Kadim in the West Bank and Netzarim in the Gaza Strip it will become a persecuted army, needs to be reminded that this is the same IDF that reconquered the territories and the same IDF that is now ready, at the directive of the government, to pull out of part of them in return for quiet. It is unlikely that the guard battalions that are stationed in the settlements in return for fair rent will enhance its prestige.