Friday, December 11, 2009

Settlement freeze & dissent


False altars

[The interior of a mosque in Samaria said to have been desecrated Thursday night by radical settlers "to exact a price" for the moratorium. Madness]


Thursday's main headline in The Jerusalem Post captured some of the best news of the week: "Thousands rally peaceably against building freeze."

Some 30,000 demonstrators, many of them young people, turned out on a chilly evening near the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem to protest the security cabinet's November 25 moratorium on new settlement construction.

The assembly was a celebration of democracy. There was neither incitement nor violence. It could easily have been otherwise. Fortunately, as our Herb Keinon wrote yesterday, the Yesha Council leadership recognized that a rancorous demonstration - with depictions of Binyamin Netanyahu wearing a keffiyeh or an SS uniform - would alienate the majority of Israelis.

National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari did cross the line when he asserted, "If there is a people that has to be evacuated and should not be here, it is not the Jewish people." It was a clever sound bite, but a tactically unwise and morally untenable argument.

We much more respect the tone set by Ma'aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel who addressed the premier from the podium: "We worked together for 18 years. And for 18 years you instructed me to build the land. Do not change your path today. We will be by your side to help you withstand American pressure."

This newspaper has questioned the value of a settlement freeze that is so wide as to include strategic settlement blocs such as Ma'aleh Adumim, yet is barely appreciated in Washington and has been utterly dismissed by the Arabs. MK Arye Eldad (National Union) was correct when he told the crowd that the freeze could potentially lead to a disengagement from much of the West Bank. Thus a moratorium which includes areas Israel intends to retain under a permanent accord sends highly problematic signals.

Of course, the main obstacles to the emergence of a demilitarized Palestinian state are the Palestinians themselves. Fatah's ineffective and intransigent "moderates" refuse good faith bargaining; Hamas's ruthless rejectionists seek permanent "armed struggle."

LEADING UP to Thursday's rally, we've been deeply troubled by the claim of settler leaders that their grievances take precedence over the decisions of Israel's security cabinet. Yesha Council head Danny Dayan urged his constituents to forcibly prevent inspectors with stop-work orders from entering settlements. He labeled the government decision "illegitimate" and a "White Paper" - a crass reference to the betrayal by British Mandate authorities of the Balfour Declaration.

Sure enough, there have been clashes up and down the West Bank between settlers - including high-school girls - and authorities. Radical settlers have even sought to "exact a price" by igniting Palestinian violence; others reportedly slashed tires on a quiet Jerusalem street.

The atmosphere of intimidation reached such levels that the IDF reportedly suspended training exercises because it needed personnel to assist the civil administration.

Radical settler Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, of the Har Bracha hesder yeshiva pre-army academy, instructed national-religious recruits to disobey orders that run contrary to the Land of Israel ethos. Though his institution is funded by the Defense Ministry (and Diaspora donors), Melamed let it be known that government officials would have to come to his mountain if they wanted to parlay; he would not come down to them.

In contrast, Rabbi Haim Druckman, another leading hesder rabbi, has written against exploiting the army to make political capital.

The establishment of the state means that competing centers of authority cannot be tolerated. There can be no false altars.

Settler leaders are being disingenuous if they think they can turn to the High Court of Justice, appeal to public opinion and lobby members of Knesset yet retain the "right" to violently confront the state if they don't get their way.

WHILE INSISTING settlers work within the law, we are not oblivious to the often dysfunctional nature of Israel's political system or the possibility of individual corruption. That is why we support Wednesday's Knesset vote to expedite legislative consideration of a bill that would require a national referendum prior to any withdrawals from the Golan Heights or east Jerusalem. Consideration might be given to a similar requirement for substantial withdrawals in Judea and Samaria as well.

In this way, decisions about Israel's permanent boarders would benefit from the unassailable legitimacy of the body politic. For now, however, the security cabinet's settlement freeze decision deserves the absolute allegiance of the governed.

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