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.