The Extremists of Your Own City Come First

Gershom Gorenberg

This week’s key misunderstood news story from the Looking Glass Land of the West Bank is that the Defense Ministry is about to approve settlement at a spot called Maskiot, near the Jordan River. On first glance, that’s bad because it means that the government is abandoning its freeze on new settlements. At second glance, the freeze on new settlements is a joke – but Maskiot is really bad news. It shows again that the government consistently, reflexively, obsessively gives in to the most extreme elements of the settlement movement.

A couple of years ago, then-defense minister Amir Peretz approved constuction at Maskiot, then backed down under American pressure. It looked as if the government freeze on new settlements, in place since the mid-90s, remained in force, thanks to Uncle Sam. But existing settlements went right on growing. This week, the Interior Ministry reported that the settlement population (not counting East Jerusalem) is 290,000. That’s up from 270,000 or so when plans for Maskiot were last stopped.

And while the government hasn’t approved new settlements, it’s done close to nothing about the “unapproved outposts.” That bland term refers to a hundred small settlements established since the official freeze. Despite the freeze, despite the fact that many are they are built on private Palestinian land, despite Israel’s obligations under the road map to freeze settlement and take down outposts, they’ve been hooked up to the electricity grid and to water lines, and guarded by soldiers, and left in place. The Housing Ministry has helped build them. Those are the conclusions of the government-commissioned Sasson Report.

So now Barak appears ready to approve Maskiot. It’s in the Jordan Rift area, which the Labor Party has treated as kosher for settlement since the fall of 1967, under the Allon Plan. Labor’s idea of what’s kosher is like that of a person who eats crab but won’t touch pork because it’s a symbol. A Jordan Rift settlement is as illegal under international law as a settlement next to Ramallah, and is as much an obstacle to peacekeeping.

According to the inimitable Isabel Kershner, Maskiot is part of a deal between Barak and settler leaders: In return for the go-ahead, some unapproved outposts will be quietly evacuated. In other words, the settlers will get an payoff for defying the government: Maskiot in place of outposts. That’s not law enforcement; it’s the equivalent of paying protection money.

So Barak will provide a settlement. And will the settlers keep their side of the bargain, and quietly evacuate outposts?

Here’s one hint: This week Nadav Shragai – the Ha’aretz reporter who often writes like a spokesman for the Council of Settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza – provided a feature on Ze’ev Hever, a.k.a. Zambish. Hever, a convicted member of the 1980s Jewish terror underground, is the head of Amana, the organizational child of Gush Emunim. Amana builds settlements. Hever worked closely with Ariel Sharon to expand the settlement map. Outside of Sharon himself, he may have done more than anyone else to move Israelis in the West Bank – though admittedly there’s lots of competition.

Now Hever is thinking of moving out of Kiryat Arba, Shragai reports. Young fanatics are slashing his tires and posting posters denouncing him for negotiating on the outposts. The young fanatics believe the old fanatic isn’t fanatical enough.

Yesterday the army did make a minor gesture toward controlling the outpost settlers: It removed a bus being used as an ersatz mobile home from Adei Ad, an outpost near Shilo, between Ramallah and Nablus. Settler extremists reportedly retaliated with a series of violent incidents. Settlers from Yitzhar, near Nablus, tossed stones at Palestinian cars on a main road. Ha’aretz reported:

Regarding the trailer’s removal, a Yitzhar resident said: “The police and the Civil Administration think they can come and evacuate like a ‘hit and run.’ So we decided that for every attempt to evacuate, we would exact a price throughout the area. The tiniest evacuation will result in incidents all day long, so it will be clear we don’t give up easily.”

Meanwhile, also at Yitzhar, the army has dismissed the settlement security coordinator. According to Ma’ariv (dead tree edition), the man had advance knowledge that a member of the settlement had built a home-made rocket and were going to fire it, apparently emulating Hamas et al in Gaza. The security coordinator did nothing about it, and refused to help in the investigation. The settlement doesn’t accept the dismissal, and has retaliated by throwing out the soldiers there to protect them – a version of “I’ll hold my breath and turn blue till you give in.”

Israel justifiably demands that the Palestinian Authority crack down on armed extremists in the areas it administers. This in the PA’s interest: A government is supposed to have a monopoly on force.

But Jewish tradition says that when you’re giving money to the poor, “the poor of your own city come first.” When you demand the rule of law, the extremists of your own city should also come first. If Barak signs off on Maskiot, he’ll prove yet again that he doesn’t get this.

5 thoughts on “The Extremists of Your Own City Come First”

  1. Actually, according to Isabel Kershner’s New York Times article (7/25/08), the building of Maskiot was not so much in return for the dismantling of unapproved West Bank outposts as it was “…intended for families of a former Gaza settlement, Shirat Hayam. To persuade them to leave Gaza peacefully, the army promised to keep them together.” In either case, it does equal protection money. It’s clearly a violation of Israel’s obligation under the road map to freeze settlement building. The fact that it is located so deeply in the West Bank, close to Jordan, is even worse. It’s isn’t even near the major settlement blocs that Israel hopes to keep in negotiations with the Palestinians, supposedly as part of a land swap. Really bad news indeed.

  2. The problems Zambish is having and the extremist actions of some hotheads in Judea/Samaria, as unjustifiable as they are, are inevitable by-products of the undemocratic and high-handed way the YESHA (Judea-Samaria settlments) Council behaved in hijacking the protest movement against the destruction of Gush Katif. Because of the anti-democratic way Sharon rammed through the decision to destroy Gush Katif without seeking a public mandate through elections or a national referendum (he called a Likud Party referendum which he lost and so he then decided to ignore the results), many people who opposed this move (like myself) felt a campaign of passive resistance was justified (i.e. barricading the homes scheduled to be destroyed, blocking the roads the IDF would use to approach the settlements and, in addition, possibly blocking roads within pre-67 Israel as a protest (just like the truck drivers did recently on the Ayalon highway).
    Apparently, Sharon cut a secret deal with the YESHA council, other YESHA leaders and the political parties representing the YESHA people in which he would promise that “this would be the last time, we are destroying Gush Katif to ‘save’ Judea/Samaria”, and they in return would make sure there would be no real opposition to the destruction and evacuation. YESHA Council never announced this secret agreement, they, instead announced they would “lead the struggle”. In the end, there was no struggle, just the Kfar Maimon fiasco in which tens of thousands of protesters were lead into a dead end situation in which all the energy was taken out of the campaign and everyone went home hot and tired without making any impression whatsoever. When the actual evacuation was carried out, one of the YESHA leaders called on a camera crew and some soldiers to stage a scene where he is dragged 2 meters. He then indicated they should stop filming and he got up and the soldiers went their way.
    Once Gush Katif was destroyed, those who opposed it realized they had been had…that there never was any intention of carrying out any effective protest and that politically they were disenfranchised…the Likud had betrayed them, and the MAFDAL/National Union had simply vanished from the scene. Then Dov Weisglas admitted that the promise that “this would be the last time” was a lie and that Sharon intended to implement what Olmert and Kadima later promised, another unilateral withdrawal to the security fence in Judea/Samaria.

    Thus, we have a large group of people, highly ideologically motivated and highly idealistic who saw everyone they ever had faith in betray them and that there was no one within the political Establishment who would represent them. This inevitably lead to extremists actions.
    I really feel sorry for Zambish….he has done a lot for YESHA. He is now paying the price for the behavior of the YESHA leadership. If some new leadership does not arise that is willing to represent the true feelings of their constituency, both in the YESHA Council and in the Knesset, things could get much worse…not necessarily violently, but having these idealistic groups simply drop out of society, as has already happened to some extent.

    As much as “progressives” oppose these groups, they are a major element in Israeli society, particularly in the IDF, and to simply dismiss their concerns, to delegitimize them, attack them in the media and to marginalize their role in society is to play a dangerous game.

  3. Y. —

    I would be interested in knowing how you might apply this reasoning to actions taken by Palestinians.

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