JERUSALEM (Oct. 19)
The Israeli prime minister’s compromise with Jewish settler leaders to voluntarily dismantle illegal West Bank outposts appears to have failed its first test.
Young settler activists foiled efforts by the Yesha Council, which represents Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, to take down the lone structure erected on a hilltop near the settlement of Shvut Rachel. The demonstrators congregated at the site near Ramallah and blocked the path of the truck carrying the equipment.
Yesha leaders told Israel Radio that they blame the media for telling the activists which outpost the council would dismantle first. The leaders said the council intends to uphold its agreement.
At the outpost Tuesday, demonstrators piled stones preventing access to the hilltop. The demonstrators danced and waved placards reading, “Today This Enclave, Tomorrow Jerusalem,” and, “Let the Sun Shine on All the Enclaves.”
The protest reflects strains within the settlement movement itself on how to deal with the settlement policies of Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Some members of the settlement community, particularly younger activists, have accused the Yesha Council of succumbing to pressure from Barak.
Though Yesha leaders and some right-wing politicians had praised the plan for having reduced by three the number of outposts Barak initially intended to dismantle, mixed feelings were evident Tuesday. The driver of the truck brought in to dismantle the outpost said he did not intend to force his way through.
“I know some of these guys,” he told Israel’s Channel 2 television. “I was in their position a couple years ago.”
The enclave, dubbed “Shvut Rachel II,” was considered one of the simpler operations undertaken by Yesha because it is uninhabited and consists solely of the structure with some agricultural equipment inside. Some of the enclaves of the 12 planned to be taken down are inhabited.
Since the Wye River agreement was signed a year ago, some 42 outposts had sprouted on hilltops in the West Bank, as settlers sought to create “facts on the ground” before final-status negotiations, which will determine the future of the settlements and Israel’s final borders.
Barak has insisted he is acting out of legal, and not political, considerations in determining which outposts can remain. His effort at compromising with the settler leaders was seen as an attempt to avoid some of the unsettling scenes witnessed during the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, when Israeli troops forcibly removed Jewish settlers who had sought to stake claim on West Bank hilltops.
Demonstrators at Shvut Rachel II on Tuesday said they did not intend to clash with troops if it came to a forced eviction.
`”If the soldiers come, we will come down from the hill, when they leave we will go back up,” one of the demonstrators, Avishai, told Israel Radio.
“We do not intend to confront IDF troops. IDF troops are us, our brothers, our friends. We will not clash with them. But from our point of view, this hill is ours, this one and all the others.”