This weekend, blatant illegal action by a group of more than 50 families came to an end. But it did not end in a way illegal action is mostly stopped. In this case, the perpetrators negotiated with the Israeli government and reached an agreement whereby they would stop their illegal activity, while the government will attempt to find a way to legalize their actions. The absurdity of right-wing occupational politics in Israel has reached a new level. You commit a crime, promise you will negotiate and the government will gladly accommodate you.
The illegal settlement Evyatar was set up only a couple of months ago and with powerful organizations behind them, the settlers quickly turned the hilltop into a village, with (makeshift) houses, gardens, a kindergarten, a Yeshiva and a synagogue. And, while the security forces continuously claimed that the settlement is illegal and needs to be removed, the government (both the previous one and the present one) were not willing to again experience the ugly scenes of settlers throwing stones at Israeli troops and the destruction of another symbol of the settler movement, and while Netanyahu simply did not do anything, Bennett, under the pressure from Gantz, came to the conclusion that something needs to be done but that negotiation is the best option.
Thus, an agreement was reached whereby the settlers left voluntarily while the government agreed to not dismantle the housing, leave a permanent Army presence in the area, and establish a Yeshiva in the settlement, “once the legal status of the land is settled”. A final clause in the agreement leaves open the possibility for a “future civilian presence in the area”. And to emphasize the farce that this agreement really is, the settlers continued building houses, paving roads, putting up road signs(!) hours before the evacuation deadline. They knew, that they will be back soon.
While it is understandable that Bennett did not want in his first weeks as Prime Minister, to have violence between Jews (soldiers and settlers) on live television, and the opposition was already formulating the by now somewhat worn-out slogans about the Leftist government, the decision to negotiate with the settlers and their leaders, has created a very dangerous precedent.
The number of illegal settlements in the occupied territories is continuously growing and Palestinians, whose land is often taken, are left in most cases without recourse. While there are Israeli organizations that attempt to help them in the legal proceedings, the wheels of justice turn slowly and (Jewish) facts on the ground are hard to remove and even decisions by the Supreme Court are executed slowly if at all. So it comes as no surprise that the response of the Palestinians is often a violent one, and while not justifiable, it surely is understandable, moreover since the settlers more often than not also use violent means to establish their “rights” and will burn down olive trees, destroy crops and harass the Palestinians. No government in Israel in the past fifty years (since the West Bank was occupied) has done anything serious in preventing the illegal settlement activities of fanatical Jews, and most governments have encouraged them, openly or outside of the eye of the press. More than four hundred thousand Jews live in the Occupied Territories today and their number is constantly growing. The original settlements have grown into cities that will be impossible to be removed and the ultimate plans of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir are being realized big time. Shamir, during his whole period at the helm of Israel, consistently refused to negotiate with the Palestinians, and preferred to do nothing, ignore the problem, while creating time to establish facts on the ground. The result is what we see now, where Israel will need to make a decision and will have to choose between a State for all citizens (meaning Jews will soon lose their majority), or an apartheid state, whereby non-Jewish residents will have limited civil rights only and the State will be controlled by Jews. The former is completely unacceptable to the Jews and will never happen, while the latter is (still) being prevented by world opinion and fear in Israel of the consequences.
And this is why the events surrounding the Evyatar settlement are significant, because they make a huge step towards the legalization of settler activity, with the government giving a very clear signal that illegal land grabbing will always be condoned as long as the settlers will “negotiate” with the government. This government, while called “leftist” by the opposition, has already done more for the ultra-right than Netanyahu managed to due in all the years he was in power. Bennett has given the green light for further settlements and no doubt many fanatics will follow the lead of the Evyatar settlers and “negotiate” with the government about the next land theft that is surely going to happen soon.
In Israel, even theft may be legalized, just as long as you steal from the right persons.
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