Opinion |

A Truce With the ‘Hilltop Youth’

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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The Maoz Esther outpost in the West Bank
The Maoz Esther outpost in the West BankCredit: Moti Milrod
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

When the head of Israel Defense Forces Central Command, Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, meets with “hilltop youth,” residents of the Maoz Esther outpost, in order to “create rapprochement and calm things down” in the words of a military representative, he is conducting negotiations with terrorists. Some of these “youth,” who are no longer teenagers, but adults who legally bear criminal responsibility, participated in unruly demonstrations against policemen after one of them, Ahuvia Sandak, was killed in a road accident during a police chase.

His friends, who fled with him by car after apparently throwing stones at Palestinians, are suspected of reckless homicide, endangering human life on a traffic artery for nationalist reasons, throwing stones at Palestinians and conspiring to commit a crime. These are all clauses that are familiar from indictments filed against Palestinians. The illegal outpost had been declared a closed military area and was supposed to be demolished two days before the accident. The words “supposed to be” would have been superfluous had it been a Palestinian village that was there.

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Already back in January Yadai spoke with those dubbed “representatives of the hilltops” – rabbis and public figures – in order to “calm things down,” after the number of attacks by settlers against Palestinians increased sharply since Sandak’s death. For the “representatives of the outposts” – a new geopolitical term – who met with Yadai on Monday and last month, these meetings are a demonstration of power, not that of the IDF, but theirs.

“We greatly appreciate the willingness to meet and to speak as equals. However, we aren’t willing to bring up for discussion a discourse that could be interpreted as a retreat or as giving up the Land of Israel. We will carry on vigorously with our positive activity. We took to the streets to oppose the Oslo Accords, and now we will go to the outposts to hold on to our soil. We will toss Oslo into the trash bin of history.” That’s what the “representatives” said. The important term here is “as equals,” which presumably means that they and the IDF are of equal status.

A mistake. It’s the “representatives” who conduct the negotiations, who determine the rules, who decide if and when they will embark on the next terror activity, and who demand that the IDF understand and accept their motives and see them as a body no less legitimate than the IDF itself. If the army wants a tahadiya (cessation of hostilities) with the “outposts,” if it is begging that the thugs stop throwing stones at soldiers or setting police vans on fire, it must pay a political price. Or, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu often promises Hamas, “quiet will be answered with quiet.”

The IDF, according to the "representatives of the outposts,” must stop chasing the gangs, refrain from demolishing outposts and primarily, preserve the status quo that has been rooted for decades and that maintains that attacks against Palestinians are an internal matter that concerns the relations between the gangs and the Palestinians

Those are the conditions for quiet. The IDF does not really control them. It has long since become the intermediary between the settlers and the government, and between the two groups and the law. When the government cannot, and mainly doesn’t want to, confront the settlers, enforce the law and protect Palestinians from violent attacks, it sends the IDF to conduct the negotiations.

In terms of tactics Yadai is right. He cannot conduct negotiations with either the Yesha (Judea and Samaria) Regional Council or with lawmakers who grant protection to the armed militias in the territories, one reason being that they are incapable of controlling the settlers’ behavior even if they wanted to do so – and they don’t. Turning to the Yesha Council is like a request for assistance from the Palestinian Authority in controlling Hamas.

Israel has already realized that it can only achieve results by talking to Hamas, and Yadai is only implementing this philosophy vis-a-vis a Jewish terror organization. A kind of internal, not to say private arrangement, which ostensibly does not stain the government with conducting negotiations with terrorists and does not hold the Yesha Council and its rabbis responsible.

Because what can a general in the IDF, which is also the sovereign in the territories, do when faced with three fortified walls that protect the “outposts” – the rabbis, the Yesha Council and the government? He can’t even offer them a gift of vaccines.

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