Yesterday the army evacuated the illegal outpost of Maoz Esther, as various newspapers reported. Orders for demolishing an outpost have to come directly from the defense minister, Ehud Barak. The bulldozers appeared a few hours after press reports that Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to dismantle illegal settlement outposts, and even less time after Barak met settlement leaders and insisted that if outposts weren’t taken down voluntarily, they’d be removed by force, because “there’s no compromise on enforcing the law.”
Oh, and of course this is all after Netanyahu’s uncomfortable conversations in Washington, where Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and everyone else including the waiters at his kosher dinner at Blair House told him that settlement building had to stop and outposts had to be taken down.
So Bibi comes back to Israel, declares in that proud strong Bibi voice that he told Obama that Jerusalem will never be divided (hint to outside observers: that’s the voice Bibi uses after an uncomfortable experience of his own weakness). And then, just to show that he does take U.S. opinion into account, he sends a bulldozer to a Potemkin outpost. (Barak, not wanting to look like a wimp himself, says, “The evacuation is not related to U.S. pressure but to the obligations of Israeli society to itself.”)
I dearly hope that no one, especially in Washington, is fooled by this farce. As Ma’ariv noted in an earlier online report, Ma’oz Esther is one of the outposts set up by hilltop youth under the direction of veteran settlement extremists Moshe Levinger and Daniella Weiss. Most of these spots aren’t populated most of the time. That Ma’ariv report was from March, the last time that Ma’oz Esther was bulldozed. Yesterday, the shacks were knocked over in the morning and put back up by the afternoon. No one was arrested. No troops stayed at the spot to make sure that it stayed demolished. Check tomorrow night, and there may not be anyone living there.
Knocking down Ma’oz Esther is precisely “rounding up the usual suspects.” It is a way to act like you are enforcing the law when you have no desire to do so.
Barak has refused to demolish houses built on Palestinian-owned land at Ofrah. He has refused to remove Migron, where 45 families live on Palestinian owned land. He told the Supreme Court that he has a deal with settler leaders for Migron’s residents to move voluntarily to an established settlement. The Migron settlers aren’t party to the agreement, they told me. They don’t accept it and aren’t moving.
If Barak had wanted to remove an illegal outpost yesterday, he could have started with Migron, Amona or one of many others populated by dozens of families. If he only wanted to take down Ma’oz Esther, he could have ordered the arrest of the people who illegally put the place back up. He might ask the police to check whether Levinger and Weiss have incited minors to break the law. The investigators could also look into the role of Rabbi Dov Lior, head of the hesder yeshivah of Kiryat Arba, who participated in the dedication of a synagogue at Maoz Esther last year.
Bibi, it appears, sought a gesture that would show good will toward the Americans, but so inconsequential that it would not upset his coalition partners or his own party’s Knesset members. It’s useful for him that the sheds have been put back up at Ma’oz Esther. That way he and Barak can order it demolished again in a couple of months, when they need another gesture.