by Michael Green
Whilst the Jerusalem Municipality was busy lining the city’s streets with American flags to welcome U.S. President George Bush, left-wing Israeli activists headed to the West Bank to raise their own flags outside Migron, the unauthorised settlement ‘outpost’ five kilometers southwest of Ramallah. The protest itself was nothing exceptional. The gathering of one hundred or so Peace Now, Meretz and assorted activists demonstrated against the same issue they have been campaigning against over the last three decades. The action generated media airtime, but for the Jewish settlers in Migron and elsewhere in the West Bank, as well as their Palestinian neighbours, it’s business as usual. Months after the Annapolis peace summit, Migron and the 100 or so other illegal outposts are still standing, not to mention hundreds of new homes planned for the existing settlements of Har Homa and Ma’ale Adumim.
, established in early 2002 on a hilltop owned by the Palestinian villages Ein Yabrud and Burka, is the largest of the ‘outposts’ with around 40 families in over 50 caravans and 2 permanent structures. Terming settlements like Migron – established without government permission – ‘illegal’ is problematic even though this is their formal status in Israeli law. Doing so grants legitimacy to the ‘authorised’ Jewish settlements in the West Bank whose status violates international law.
“What is the point of distinguishing between a discussion of outposts and a discussion of the entire settlement enterprise?” wrote Dror Etkes
of Peace Now’s settlement watch unit.
“Clearly the outposts are nothing less than new or expanded settlements, established in recent years. The periodic discussion concerning these or other outposts constitutes precisely that wall of consciousness and media that the settlers exploit in order to divert the discussion away from the real questions that Israeli society must urgently address,” he continued.
But the outposts are more than just a game of semantics. When the decision comes to draw a border with the Palestinians, Israeli settlements will be dismantled, and the outposts will be the first to go. “The problem is not the caravans in Migron, it’s beautiful houses over there,” said a Meretz activist pointing at the shiny red-roofed settlement of Kochav Yakov on the adjacent hilltop. “First Migron will be evacuated, then the other settlements will follow.”
Despite the small number of settlers living in outposts, how to deal with these law-breakers has been a thorn in Israel’s side for a number of years, growing sharper since the 2005 publication of the Outposts Report
. The report by Talia Sasson, former head of the State Prosecution Criminal Department and commissioned by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, ordered the dismantling of settlement ‘outposts’ built without government authorisation. So why are they still standing?
Israelis and Palestinians alike have learned not to get their hopes up by visits from well-meaning diplomats or the latest round of peace talks. Nevertheless, Olmert has already declared a de facto freeze on new settlement building in a bid to limit diplomatic embarrassment following the announcement to build 307 new homes in Har Homa (although he conceded that construction may continue in the major settlement blocs) and Regev affirmed the Prime Minister will act ‘expeditiously’ on the outposts. "I hope and assess that, in the coming period, and thereafter…real steps will be taken to remove those outposts," Vice Premier Haim Ramon told Israel Radio. Ramon didn’t name names, but hinted that outposts to the east of the separation barrier – including Migron – would be slated for removal.
Evacuating Jewish settlers is a task that no Israeli politician relishes. But failing to act in removing them, starting with the outposts, is antithetical to Israel’s renewed commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, not to mention avoiding the fate of a single bi-national state. The only question that remains is what is the government’s definition of ‘expeditious’?