Normally stark ideological opponents, Israeli settlement leaders and left-wing activists agreed on one thing this week: Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer will find it tough to follow through on his promise to dismantle illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank.
Representatives from both camps claimed Ben-Eliezer’s directive to remove several of the illegal outposts early Wednesday was driven by political pressures within his Labor Party.
Ben-Eliezer, the Labor chairman, faces a November primary for party leadership against two more dovish candidates, Knesset member Haim Ramon and Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna.
A spokesman for Peace Now, which opposes Israeli settlements and monitors the illegal outposts, said Wednesday’s evacuation was welcome but was merely “symbolic.”
Surveys count as many as 100 outposts — in many cases, just a caravan or two a stone’s throw from an existing settlement — in the West Bank, mostly near Nablus and Ramallah in the north and Hebron in the south.
A spokesman for the Yesha Council, a settler group, said settlement efforts would continue despite Wednesday’s action. Israel Defense Force soldiers removed two unmanned outposts, and settlers themselves demolished two others.
Palestinian officials dismissed the move as an Israeli ruse to cover “violations of international law and assaults against the Palestinian people.”
Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, head of the IDF’s Central Command, told settlement leaders Tuesday night that he had orders to evacuate 24 outposts. Settlers said Kaplinsky had six weeks to do so, but army sources said the IDF plans to remove all 24 within the next week.
The army will take into consideration the mood in various parts of the West Bank before acting. It’s unlikely, for example, that outposts will be evacuated near the Maon and Carmel settlements near Hebron, after one Israeli was killed and three injured Tuesday in a shooting attack there.
The Yesha Council called upon settlers not to confront soldiers who arrive to evacuate populated outposts. But they are mobilizing to pressure Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, hoping he will instruct Ben-Eliezer not to demolish more outposts.
The Yesha Council “will use all democratic means to oppose” the evacuations, secretary general Adi Mintz said.
Earlier reports said Ben-Eliezer had discussed his plan with Sharon last week and that Sharon had no intention of interfering. Ben-Eliezer’s decision was further backed by a decision of the attorney general, who declared the outposts illegal, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported.
Under an agreement with Ben-Eliezer, settlers dismantled about 20 of the outposts in June and July. But Peace Now claims the figure is misleading, as settlers returned to some of the sites several weeks later.
Many of the outposts have been established in recent years at the site of terrorist attacks. Some have been established on hilltops near existing settlements, a form of de facto settlement expansion that could influence border negotiations if peace talks with the Palestinians resume.
Both the Sharon government and the previous Labor government of Ehud Barak have sought to determine the status of the outposts with settlement leaders. Some of the outposts, in fact, are in various stages of retroactive “legalization.”
Left-wing groups claim settlers establish many outposts knowing that, in discussions with the government, they can negotiate to legalize older outposts if they agree to dismantled newer ones.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.