A fictitious debate
By Gideon Levy
[Ha'aretz - 16 Oct]:
There is no difference between an "illegal outpost" and a "legal settlement": the question of the settlements' legality should not even be on the public agenda. The only thing that differentiates a "legal" settlement from an "illegal" outpost is a piece of paper, usually in the form of retroactive "laundering" of the outpost by the defense establishment. Yesterday's outposts are today's settlements and both are a disaster.
There are no "legal" settlements in the occupied territories and there is not one "illegal outpost" among those that are now being evacuated, which was not established without the knowledge and encouragement of the defense establishment. The latest theater of the absurd production in the infuriating history of the settlements project - entitled "evacuation of outposts" - is diverting people's attention from the real point. And that is its only purpose. In this play, everything is illusion: the defense minister is supposedly presenting an alternative policy; the settlers are ostensibly uttering cries of outrage; and a few mobile homes are moved and then brought back the next day.
But the worst illusion lies in the fact that the illegal outposts are being turned into the main problem, while all the rest of this vastly expensive and vastly injurious enterprise is considered just, moral or smart. So it has to be said clearly: all the settlements, from Ariel to Asa'el, are an immoral phenomenon. They have entangled Israel in cycles of violence and bloodshed. If they had not set themselves the goal of thwarting every possibility of an agreement - and succeeding in their endeavor - we would now be close to the achievement of peace.
The settlement project is a warped endeavor. Its leaders coveted more and more land, settled on it by force or by permission - it makes no difference - and instilled fear in the hearts of their neighbors. Some of the settlers made the lives of the Palestinians so unbearable that they were compelled to leave.
The distinction that is often drawn between moderate, moral settlers, who are the majority, and the extremist, violent types on the margins, is also a baseless prevarication. All the settlers, to the last of them, made their homes in a country that is not theirs and on land that is not theirs. As such, they are all equally immoral. Even if the primary motivation of most of them was not ideological, their residence there reflects a criminal ideology. The insatiable expansionist campaigns - another hill, another vineyard - are no less grave than the punitive expeditions carried out by the "extremists" among them. It is not enough to clasp one's hands in sorrow at the sight of settlers (who are never apprehended) murdering Palestinians who are harvesting olives: the Israeli society should have long since denounced the entire camp that settled in its backyard and is threatening to bring about the society's destruction from there.
There is no doubt that the settlement enterprise is the biggest success story of modern Zionism. For the past three decades, a small public has been dictating the national agenda.
The left can only be envious. The settlers have not been branded with the mark of Cain, and no government has dared to confront them head on. The security forces seem to be struck dumb in their presence. The current war is in part the settlers' fault, but Israeli society has never settled accounts with them. People in Dimona don't ask why it is necessary to spend hundreds of thousands of shekels to armor one bus for the schoolchildren of Rafah Yam, in the Gaza Strip, and hardly any soldiers ask why they are being asked to risk their lives for a group of oddballs in the Eshtamoa lookout. Now the settlers' leaders are demanding the conquest of the Gaza Strip, no less, for the sake of the handful of residents in the Gush Katif settlements.
In the face of all this, the Labor Party is presenting its ideological response: the evacuation of a few mobile homes. Against the lust for territories of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is brandishing the evacuation of the outposts and trying - as usual in Labor - to have his cake and eat it, too: he is both against the settlements, wearing the mantle of enlightened advocate of peace, and for the settlements.
It's time Ben-Eliezer and the others in his party tell us the truth. If he is in favor of the settlements, he must stop the evacuation farce immediately. And if he is against them, he must stop the farce of defending them with the lives of soldiers. For that, no Palestinian partner is needed: Israeli courage will be enough.