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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?id=56854&mador=4

Sunday, September 26, 1999

Pursuing Their Agenda

By Gideon Levy

If you want to see Israeli injustice, if you want confirmation of the fact that on a host of subjects there is no difference between the Likud and the Labor Party, and if you want a concrete manifestation of the fact that Labor has forgotten nothing and learned nothing - then consider the way Ehud Barak's new "government of change" is dealing with the illegal hilltop outposts established by the settlers in the territories.Again we confront the settlers' caprices and their obsessions. To their credit, it should be said they are continuing to pursue their agenda even though they are by now isolated within Israeli society, which is becoming increasingly indifferent to their fate and future. But why complain to them: From the start, their declared goal was to thwart any possibility of achieving a peace settlement with the Palestinians, and they have not swerved from that objective. Hilltop outposts or settlements, mobile homes or new neighborhoods - the goal is clear and success is guaranteed. The resolution of the tangled historical conflict with the Palestinians would be a far simpler matter if the bone of the settlements was not stuck in the throat of everyone involved: It can't be swallowed and it can't be spit out.

Only when you visit the West Bank and see how a Jewish settlement strangles a Palestinian village can you understand the scale of the disaster that the settlers have visited on both nations. Intoxicated with success and lusting for land, the settlers could never be satiated. Now we have the hilltop outposts, their "appropriate Jewish response" to the Wye accords that were signed by a right-wing government that they helped bring to power. Another outpost and another hilltop, crushing another possibility of achieving a fair settlement. Now it turns out that when some of them calculated that Ehud Barak was to be preferred over Benjamin Netanyahu in last May's elections, they knew exactly what they were doing: Barak does not dare touch what they have wrought.

Since 1996 they have set up no fewer than 42 new hilltop outposts (according to the figures of Peace Now). Such an outpost might take the form of a lone trailer home on an isolated hilltop where one armed settler terrorizes anyone who tries to infringe on his turf, or it might be a group of houses at the edge of an existing settlement - but in every case it spells danger for all outsiders.

The overwhelming majority of these outposts were established illegally. So what? The Defense Ministry has already "laundered" - legitimized - most of them. This story, then, is also another chapter in the annals of Israeli injustice. It's not that the Israeli authorities are incapable of reacting swiftly when someone breaks the law: the house of Yusuf Atrash and his 10 children was demolished three times; the house of Ata Jaaber was demolished twice; and similar justice was meted out to the family of Hajj Yusuf with its 16 children, to the tent camp of the Al Kabash family which was home to 30 souls, to the hut of the Al Halsa family, to the extra story added to his home by the aged Ahmed Hamadan, and to the houses of young couples from the Abu Yaakub family at Kafl Kharth and of the Shwamareh family at Anata. The bulldozers of the Civil Administration rolled in at dawn, determined to uphold the law, which they did by crushing and destroying everything in their path and leaving thousands of people homeless, and sowing ever more seeds of burning hate.

Unlike the settlers, most of these Palestinians have no place to live apart from the house they built on their private land; unlike the settlers, they have no prospect of obtaining a building permit or of their houses being legitimized after the fact; unlike the settlers, they did not build their homes as a defiant demonstration but in order to solve serious housing distress; unlike the settlers, they did not intend to dispossess anyone of their land; and, in stark contrast to the settlers, Israel did not "launder" their houses, it razed them to the ground.

Three months have gone by since the new Labor-Meretz government was installed, yet not one discussion has been held about the hilltop settlements. Evacuating them is out of the question at this time. "The prime minister has no interest in another confrontation with the settlers on an issue which is not perceived as acute at this time," sources in the defense establishment and at the political level explain (as Amos Harel reported in Ha'aretz). Not an acute issue? Is there any issue that is more acute? Recall that Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Israel Galili - the true forefathers of the settlers - also found no acute need to dismantle the illegal settlements that popped up in the dark of night in their time. The rest is blood-drenched history.

On the Golan Heights ministers of the Barak government are dedicating new neighborhoods, and the prime minister, who has asked the members of his cabinet not to make political statements, has not seen fit to reprimand ministers who are displaying defiance in the form of actions and not only words. In the West Bank, 42 new settlements remain intact. And with these unclean hands the government is about to enter into the negotiations on the permanent settlement. Just because the Palestinians are not protesting vigorously against the unilateral facts they are being confronted with is no reason not to remove these festering new sores: after all, not only the Palestinians will be affected by the land-grabs.

The hilltop outposts will quickly become permanent facts, exactly as the settlers wish: Mitzpeh Hagit and Givat Hadagan will remain where they are for all time, exactly like their predecessors, which also had identical beginnings. Then will come the fashionable talk by broad Israeli circles about recognizing the Palestinians' right to a state, but none of the speakers will take an interest in where, exactly, that state will be located - between Gidonim and Givat Olam? Or perhaps between Conflagration Estate and the Hill of Covetousness

(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved


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