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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?id=51157&mador=3

Ha'aretz, July 12, 1999

Get Rid of the Outposts

Ha'aretz Editorial

 

After their meeting yesterday at the Erez junction, Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat described Israeli settlements in the territories as one of the most difficult problems facing both sides as they approach final status negotiations. Barak and Arafat made a special effort to undo the suspicion and antagonism that characterized the relationship between the Netanyahu government and the Palestinian leadership, in order to give a new chance to substantive negotiations. Barak has now the opportunity to help create a new atmosphere of trust if he turns to dealing urgently with one of the land mines left behind by the Netanyahu administration.

About a year ago, as the summit with the Palestinians at Wye River Plantation approached, the settlers and their supporters in the previous government foresaw the agreement crystallizing in the U.S. and began a campaign to grab land in the West Bank. Palestinian protests, warnings from the U.S. government and the international community, and complaints by many Israelis, did nothing to halt the phenomenon, which only continued to grow. A year ago, there were six of these outposts. This week reports said there were already 42, with hundreds of mobile homes posted on them.

Everywhere, the method used was the same: The settlers identified a hilltop some distance from an existing settlement, mostly in areas called state lands, and sometimes inside the zoned area of the settlement (which in many cases is an enormous area). They brought mobile homes to the hilltop, and to avoid claims of creating a new settlement, they said they were only expanding existing settlements. Sometimes the IDF knew in advance of the settlers' intentions, and sometimes it didn't. In any case, when the IDF demanded the settlers leave the hilltops, they refused.

The second stage was paving a road to the new outpost and filling the mobile homes with a few families. At that stage, the government and the army surrendered to the settlers' demands. The IDF provided protection, and the settlers found ways to raise money from the public coffers to pay for their presence there.

In the previous government, National Religious Party ministers and other factors put pressure on the government to make sure the outposts were not dismantled. Usually, there was no need for any pressure, especially during the election campaign when former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted settler support. Minister Ariel Sharon supported the settlers, indeed encouraged them, and when Moshe Arens was named defense minister the settlers won added budgets.

What began as an illegal improvisation quickly turned into a method, supported by the previous government, to nurture a wild, catch-as-catch-can land grab. On occasion, the race was accompanied by outbreaks of violence with Palestinians - especially when the land grabs took place on privately owned Arab lands.

Now, with a new government, it is time to end this state of affairs. During the previous government, the settlers enjoyed a special status. Getting rid of the outposts that were born in sin will make it clear to the settlers and the Palestinians that the Barak government does not intend to follow in the Netanyahu government's footsteps.

 

 

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


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