Posted: November 24th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

A showdown in Hebron is on it’s way: the settlers are refusing the order to leave the “Peace House”, as they call it, at the heart of the Palestinian city, and the army is getting ready to evacuate them by force, sometime between now and mid December. This is, without doubt, another demonstration of Israel’s democracy, its respect for the law and its willingness to uphold the law upon extremists from both sides, blah blah blah.

Truth is, the distinction between “legal” and “illegal” settlements is no more than a game Israelis like to play with themselves. Nobody in the world – except some soon-to-be-kicked-out-of-Washington-Neo-Cons – accepts the notion of “legal” settlements (and no one should). Some might accept the idea of legalizing a few settlements as part of bilateral agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, probably in exchange for Israeli land west of the 67’ line. Until then, ALL settlements are seen as a violation of the 4th Geneva Convention (article 49), which prohibits the occupying power to transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.

So what’s the point of all this fuss in Hebron? Well, like Henry Kissinger once noted, “Israel has no foreign policy, it has only a domestic policy”, and the coming show in Hebron is part of a game, designed to make Israelis feel better with themselves and maybe attract some voters to some of the parties involved in the upcoming election.

Here is how this game works: on one side we have Kadima, and especially Labor, which are bleeding in the polls. After 8 years of alienating his supporters, declaring that there is no point in negotiations with the Palestinians and doing nothing while the settlers harass Palestinian farmers and capture more and more land, Labor’s Ehud Barak had suddenly remembered he’s the leader of the Left. In order to establish this and to show some initiative, he is ready to confront some of the most radical settlers, knowing it will cost him nothing in public opinion.

In all his time as defense minister, Barak had the opportunity to execute plenty of legal orders that were issued against “illegal” settlements. He preferred to do nothing most of the time. In some cases he negotiated agreements with “Moetzet Yesha”, the heads of the settlement movement, promising them new neighborhoods and housing projects in some settlements, in exchange for the removal of others. Only now, two and a half months before the election, he is considering evacuation.

On the other hand we have the settlers. They see the Likud getting stronger, but they know Netanyahu doesn’t want them in his next government. He will prefer a “national unity” government with either Kadima or Labor, or both. And the polls give the radical right between 4 to 6 MKs (now they have 9). They need this momentum changing event too – and what better opportunity than defending the holy city of Hebron?

There are also radical elements within the settlers who don’t care for all this political maneuvering. They made a strategic decision after the evacuation of the Gaza Strip to increase their opposition to any other attempt to evacuate Jewish settlements. They see Hebron as a test case, an opportunity to send a warning to the government and the rest of the public of what will happen if Israel tries to withdraw from more land.

The point is that all this will have absolutely no effect on the situation in the West Bank, or on the lives of Palestinians. Not even those Palestinians living in Hebron. It’s purely a political game between Israelis.

And there is one more thing about the role both Barak and the IDF play in this game: The reason for the coming evacuation, as it was reported in all the Israeli media, is a Supreme Court ruling, giving the army (which is in charge of upholding the law in the occupied territories) 30 days to get the settlers out of the house. naturally, the right wing attacked this decision, calling it “a political ruling” by the court).

The only problem is that the Supreme Court made mo such ruling. As my friend Roee Sharon reported in Maariv on Friday, the order to evacuate the house came form the defense minister office, and it was the settlers who appealed to the Supreme Court, claiming the state has no right to evacuate them. The Supreme Court only ruled that the state in fact does have the authority to do so, if it wishes to. The Court never said it had to. The media has bought to the government and army’s spin, which was intended to shift the responsibility from themselves to the court (which has no PR office to spin things back).

The funny part in Roee Sharon’s article was the response from Barak’s office. At first, they said “the court has ordered to evacuate [the house]”. An hour later, they changed their statement, saying “it’s true that the Supreme Court hadn’t ruled one way or the other, but that the evacuation should be carried out within reasonable time”. When the reporter told them that the phrase “reasonable time” does not appear in the Supreme Court’s ruling, the answer was “that’s not the actual ruling, but that’s how our legal advisers interpreted the ruling”. Finally it was agreed that the court didn’t order the evacuation. “The Defense minister will make sure the state’s authority is upheld”, was the last response Mr. Sharon got.

So, we are back where we started: There is no “legal” or “illegal” in the West Bank. Only Israeli will and Israeli politics.

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