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PV Vivekanand: Much ado about nothing
March 28, 2012
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on course for a head-on clash with Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank after the country’s apex court rejected the state’s request for a postponement of the dismantling of a large West Bank settler enclave until late 2015.

However, at the end of the day, it will prove to be a hyped-up issue that offers the Israelis another window to tell the world of the “difficulties” facing world Jews seeking to live in peace and safety after the Holocaust. The Israeli establishment is always waiting for such opportunities and its propaganda machine has already swung into motion to make the best of the situation.

The Israeli government has followed a policy of building settlements in the occupied West Bank, including Arab East Jerusalem, for Jews since occupying the territory in the 1967 war. These areas have been turned into large townships and Israel wants to keep them under any peace agreement with the Palestinians, who are aware that they will have to make some territorial compromise with the Jewish state.

There are also enclaves that settlers have set up without sanction from the Israeli authorities. They have built in these areas, most of them owned by Palestinians. The settlers are heavily armed and deny the owners access to their land.

These enclaves are deemed illegal by the Israeli government, which calls them “rogue outposts.” Under international law, all settlements are illegal because an occupying power is prohibited from tampering with the geographic and demographic features of the occupied land.

Settlers, who appear to live by their own law and do not obey government orders, have set up more than 100 outposts without government approval after Israeli governments pledged not to build new settlements in the 1990s. Israel promised the US more than a decade ago to dismantle two dozen outposts built after 2001, including Migron. But violent clashes with outpost settlers over the destruction of isolated structures, combined with political and legal obstacles, discouraged the government from honouring its pledge.

The settlers argue that Palestinian plaintiffs have not proven ownership of areas where they have built and say that government officials helped them to set up their outposts, even though they were not officially sanctioned. Despite labelling the enclaves illegal, the government has hooked them up to utility grids and has sent soldiers to protect them.

The Israeli Supreme Court on Sunday ruled that one of such enclaves, Migron, should be dismantled as the high court had decided earlier. The apex court was ruling on a government petition to delay the dismantling of Migron by March 31 as demanded by the high court, which found that it was built on privately held Palestinian land. The petition asked the Supreme Court to let Migron’s settlers stay put until new homes were built for them on a nearby West Bank hilltop by November 2015.

The court said that accepting the state’s agreement would be tantamount to flouting the rule of law, but extended the Migron evacuation until Aug.31.

Settlers have vowed not to allow the enclave be dismantled. They have clashed with Israeli security forces trying to dismantle “rogue outposts” in the past. They also argue that it is their religious duty to settle this patch of the “Biblical land of Israel” and have insisted that Jews remain there.

The dispute is also yet another opportunity for Israel to highlight its assumed status as the “Jewish state” and the “challenges” Jews face in what they claim as their “promised land.”

“We were sent by the Israeli government to carry out a mission here, the high court buried our (compromise) agreement with the State, and now the ball is in Netanyahu’s hands,” according to a resident of Migron.

“We built this community with the help of the Israeli government’s various branches,” said Chaim Teitelbaum.

“The high court determined that Israel may send its citizens on pioneering missions without bearing any responsibility for the outcome of these missions. The ball is entirely in Netanyahu’s hands — and he will find a just solution,” he told reporters.

Netanyahu faces a dilemma. The 500,000 settlers living in the occupied territories represent a major vote bank for political parties. The ruling coalition he heads includes hardline parties which reject any “territorial compromise” with the Palestinians and who are determined to keep the West Bank for good as part of Israel.

Settler leader Shimon Riklin, one of Migron’s founders, has vowed that the evacuation of Migron “would not pass quietly.”

Netanyahu, who said the government “respects the court’s rulings and operates according to Israel’s laws,” cannot alienate his coalition partners and settlers, but he could not escape from implementing the court order. According to analysts, evacuating Migron would not topple the ruling coalition, but would make it less stable and tougher to govern.

Some of Netanyahu’s partners in the coalition have said they would seek legislation to circumvent the court ruling. However, earlier attempts to legislate around the Migron evacuation order have foundered.

The Palestinians are sceptical — and rightly so — that the Supreme Court ruling would be carried out at all. Netanyahu heads the most hardline government Israel has seen since its creation in Palestine in 1948 and it could be expected to find new strategies to avoid implementing the court order.

Palestinian government spokesman Ghassan Khatib voiced precisely that scepticism. He said the Palestinians were reserving judgment on the ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court.

“We will judge the matter by deeds, rather by than decisions, words or intentions,” he said. “Migron is only one of too many Israeli outpost-settlements that are supposed to be evacuated. The Israeli behaviour vis-a-vis this, and other outposts, is an example that illustrates Israel’s intention to consolidate the occupation, rather than end it,” Khatib said.

We cannot agree with him more.

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