Government ministers outdid themselves last week to see who would be more vociferous in their condemnation of settler violence. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was forced to admit that settler violence is terrorism; Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said it was “shocking violence;” Defense Minister Benny Gantz spoke about “grave incidents; and terrorism;” Minister of Public Security Omer Bar-Lev spoke of “operations by a terrorist organization;” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said silence in the face of such acts and failure to join the battle against violence constitutes “agreement and encouragement for continued violence;” and Environment Minister Tamar Zandberg said, “We cannot allow settler violence.”
Praiseworthy words indeed, but condemnations are not enough; even the Yesha Council of settlements condemned the violence. It is deeds that are required. I know that the easiest thing publicly and politically is to demand repeatedly that Meretz and Labor withdraw from the government, and perhaps that moment will come. But for now, what is required of them is to use their power in exactly the same way that right-wing ministers do. Don’t be afraid of it. Don’t be afraid of yourselves. Use it.
Until now, during this last wave of terrorism by the settlers, there have been no indictments or arrests. Soldiers gently removed settlers who attacked Palestinians at a checkpoint in Burqa, but didn’t arrest them. We should also ask ourselves: Why is there a checkpoint at Burqa in the first place? Why is this criminal outpost at Burqa (“Homesh”) still there?
Here lies the crux of the problem: The ministers of the center-left have failed to act. Gantz says he opposes settler violence. But he intends to connect illegal outposts to the electricity network. This is not just a prize for criminality. Later, when the process of evacuating the outposts takes place at a leisurely pace in the courts, the residents of these outposts will put forward a legal claim that will not be easy to counter: Why evacuate us when even the government recognizes us and connects us to the electricity grid?
Moreover, Bennett and Lapid say there will be no peace process while this government is in power. So what is the difference between it and the Netanyahu government? On the one hand, there is no peace process and on the other, there is continued settlement pushing out more and more Palestinians from their land and making a solution impossible. Israel, as it was said many years ago, is negotiating over a pizza while continuing to devour more and more slices.
Over the years, the ministers of the center-left have been so far from the corridors of power that they have forgotten how to use it. They are not supposed to sit in the government and nod their heads or just mouth empty words. They need to demand action. They should begin, for example, with the arrest of every settler seen attacking Palestinians.
Soldiers have the authority to detain settlers, but their commanders make sure to tell them the opposite because who wants to deal with such a headache? Soldiers should be instructed to arrest any settlers seen in Palestinian villages or attacking a Palestinian. The police, who always turn up late, should begin ardently investigating such incidents. Prosecutors must demand arrest without bail for settlers who have been caught committing acts of violence. At the same time, notably violent outposts should be removed: Homesh would be a good place to start.
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The ministers of the center-left must clarify that they will deploy every tool at their disposal to oppose any whitewashing of illegal outposts and outposts. They are part of the government and this government cannot exist without them. They may have small numbers, but the Ultra-orthodox have proved how power can be leveraged to gain significant achievements. We should learn from them.