Holding Out on the Outposts

An announcement was made by Sharon's office two months ago that evacuation of the West Bank outposts would begin after the disengagement. When Shaul Mofaz was asked about it this week, however, he asked for a time-out.

The meeting between Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and representatives of the Yesha Council (of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza) on the matter of the outposts took place two years ago. That was before the disengagement plan was conceived, back in the days when, as far as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was concerned, Netzarim was the twin sister of Tel Aviv and the evacuation of a rusty shipping container in the Hebron hills was considered an extraordinary accomplishment for the army. In the meeting, the minister tried to convince the settlement leaders to curb their protests against the government's intention to evacuate the handful of caravans that had been placed on the ground without the approval of the government or the defense minister and, it goes without saying, without the approval of the civil administration and the planning authorities.

Livni said the outside world presumably she meant the United States does not understand the difference between Migron, an outpost, and Ofra, a veteran settlement. She cautioned that all the noise over the outposts was liable to endanger the entire settlement enterprise. Her arguments made little impression on the Yesha folks. Wallerstein threatened, Shaul Mofaz folded and a new school year opened at Migron's kindergarten.

Paradoxically, the relative ease with which 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank were evacuated now threatens to bring down Migron, which is adjacent to Kochav Yaakov, a settlement in the Binyamin region. The world has seen how in six workdays it is possible to subdue an entire settlement bloc in Gaza and for dessert to take down a couple of settlements in the West Bank. The evacuation of Ganim and Kadim, carried out willingly if not happily, confirmed the belief that thousands of settlers have been ready for some time now for an evacuation-compensation deal.

Rabin was wrongThe hot days of mid-August 2005 will be seared into the collective memory as a turning point in the history of relations between the State of Israel and the settlers. Although the newspaper Hatzofeh did not flinch at calling the relocation of 7,000 Jews to new homes on the sovereign soil of the State of Israel a "destruction of the Temple," the vast majority of their supporters went through the motions by hanging an orange ribbon from the car antenna. This summer, we learned that the doomsday weapon "civil war" was a dud, and that Yitzhak Rabin was wrong when he was refrained from evacuating Tel Rumeida (in the heart of Hebron) after the massacre committed by Baruch Goldstein in the Tomb of the Patriarchs. There is no reason the army and police would not be able to summon their now-famous determination and sensitivity for the purpose of opening the wholesale market in Hebron, which has been deserted for years, out of fear that the settlers would harm the local shopkeepers.

"A gun that doesn't shoot is scarier than a gun that misses," said a senior aide to the prime minister this week, derisively rejecting the charge that the operation went smoothly due to the "responsibility exhibited by the settler leadership." "The credit goes solely to the prime minister," he said, "who made the decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, and to the security forces that executed the decision in the finest possible manner." If the Talia Sasson report pulled the legal rug out from under Sharon, Operation Helping Hand took the operational sting out of it. Sharon adviser Dov Weissglas, who had assessed that the withdrawal would go smoothly, announced over two months ago at a lecture at Tel Aviv University that the settlement outposts in the West Bank would be evacuated immediately after evacuation of the settlements from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank was completed. However, when Shaul Mofaz was asked Wednesday on Army Radio about the timetable for dismantlement of the outposts, he asked for a time out.

It remains unclear from whom the defense minister the supreme authority in the West Bank expects to receive an extension. Are members of the Likud Party Central Committee interfering, stopping him from acting on the six evacuation orders that he himself signed over a year ago? Can it be that the Yesha Council is preventing him from enforcing the 10 demolition orders for unauthorized buildings at the outpost of Amona, which he signed two months ago?

Perhaps he is hoping for some consideration by the Supreme Court president, who upheld the validity of the warrants? Or from the Palestinians, on whose land these unauthorized buildings were erected? Can it be that they forgot to tell him about the experts in the State Prosecutor's Office, who repeatedly warn that they will not be able to defend the state against petitions brought by the landowners when they ask the High Court of Justice to order the defense minister to return their lands in the same condition that the IDF returned the Gaza Strip?

No room to doubtMofaz almost certainly requested an extension from the U.S. president, who is holding a handful of IOUs from the Israeli government to evacuate all of the outposts that were put up since Sharon entered office in March 2001. The latest commitment, which bears the signature of Weissglas, who was at that time the prime minister's chief of staff, was sent to then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on April 14, 2004. The wording leaves no room to doubt. In the first paragraph, Weissglas undertook, in Sharon's name, to define, together with Dan Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador at the time, "in the next few days," the construction line of each of the settlements. In the second paragraph, he pledged to submit within 30 days "a list of the unauthorized outposts with indicative dates of their removal."

The American team that was sent here last year to mark the boundaries of the settlements faded away. The days that were allocated to preparation of the list of outposts turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months. President George Bush, who decided to adopt the disengagement plan, was easily persuaded with an expert legal opinion that Sharon would not be able to dismantle the outposts. In July 2004, attorney Sasson was appointed to the job, and her report was submitted to the cabinet ministers six months ago. On March 10, the government decided to "endorse the principle contained in the legal opinion, according to which care should be taken to ensure that procedures of allocation, planning, construction and populating of new or existing settlements in the West Bank, with all that entails, should be done lawfully and in accordance with government decisions."

For the purposes of implementing this decision, a ministerial committee headed by Tzipi Livni was appointed. It was given 90 days to complete its work. This deadline was extended by two months, but due to Livni's intensive engagement in the disengagement plan, the committee has still not renewed its activity. In the meantime, nothing has changed at the Jewish Agency's Settlement Division, the patron of the outposts. The taxpayer continues to pay for the water, electricity, security, transportation, and all the other perks that go to the Jewish invaders. The IDF had an excellent opportunity last week to evacuate the outposts, since many of their inhabitants were busy throwing cans at the forces besieging the citadel in Sa-Nur.

The law calls this theftConcealed behind the decision to first evacuate the four veteran West Bank settlements and to postpone the dismantling of the 24 outposts built since March 2001 is the desire to feed the suspicion that the disengagement plan was merely a scheme to sacrifice the Gaza Strip for the sake of the West Bank. On the face of it, giving up a settlement is more painful and more difficult than evacuating an outpost. Essentially, the outpost of Migron and its little siblings are a bone stuck in the Palestinian throat more than Ganim and Kadim were. Ostensibly, an outpost is a new, temporary settlement. But actually, the number of residents of Migron (150) is three times that of the population of the veteran Sa-Nur (55). The following profile of two outposts is drawn from the appendix to the Sasson report. Migron is a candidate for evacuation, according to the commitment made to the U.S., because it was established after the cutoff date. Pisgat Yaakov, near Beit El, was established before the cutoff date, in 1995, during the Labor-Meretz government. Migron started out as a cellular antenna, Pisgat Yaakov as a water tower. Both enjoy the beneficial patronage of Pinchas Wallerstein and his colleagues in the Binyamin regional council; both are built on privately owned Palestinian land and neither was ever allocated any land by any authority; neither has planning status nor any geographical area of jurisdiction; and each was allocated slightly more than NIS 4.3 million by the Housing Ministry.

In the appendix to her report, which was not made public, Sasson saw fit to comment that the March 2001 date was set as a point in time for counting the outposts, "for political reasons," and added that, "In any event, this date has no special legal significance." On the other hand, the fact that 54 of the 105 outposts cited in the report (she notes that the number might be higher, since the Civil Administration did not submit all of the data to her) are wholly or partly located on private land of Palestinians, has abundant legal significance.

The law calls this theft. Colonel (res.) Shlomo Politis, who spent a long time as legal counsel of the Central Command, recently noted that the government's support for these outposts and the funding that it granted them makes it an accomplice to the crime. The real significance of the choice of March 2001 as the cutoff date is that patience pays off: today's outpost is tomorrow's settlement. So what is Weissglas pledged that it Migron's turn would come as soon as Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria? Is this the time to bother Sharon with a few pesky settlement outposts? Doesn't he have enough trouble already with the Likud? What do you want, anyway? Netanyahu??