ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Settler End Game 25.7.05

Settler End Game

25 July 2005

By Yisrael Ne'eman

The orange clad anti-Disengagement demonstrations of last week began and ended as a lost cause. PM Ariel Sharon made sure everyone understood that in a speech he made Sunday declaring the evacuation from Gaza to be one of the most important steps taken in the Zionist epic. He made it clear that after the Gaza and northern Samaria withdrawal the Palestinians will no longer be able to make claim to a "Right of Return". US President George Bush made this clear in his April 2004 letter to Sharon. In her visit this past week US Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice apparently reiterated the point as part of the price to be paid by the Palestinians in the American orchestrated plan for conflict resolution. For the first time ever this past Saturday, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas made it known publicly that "not all the refugees will be returning home." As related by former foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami and others at the Camp David talks in 2000, Abbas was the most vehement (even more than Arafat himself) in demanding the full return of all the Palestinian refugees to Israel.

The National Religious movement settler leaders know the Israeli public is willing to trade off specific areas of the West Bank and Gaza in order to disentangle from the Palestinians and possibly even reach those blessed three words, "End of Conflict", even if most do not believe it will go that far. They know Gaza is far from holy for the vast majority.

The intention to violate the law was announced from the beginning. An orange wave of tens of thousands of protesters was to descend on the Katif Bloc whether the government liked it or not. Everyone certainly has the right to travel in Israel proper but crossing the armistice line into the West Bank or Gaza is a different story, those areas are not under Israeli civil jurisdiction. The police in a heavy handed manner halted buses from arriving at the staging ground in Netivot and later Kfar Maimon where some 20,000 demonstrators were trapped in a rural farming village in the northern Negev desert. Although definitely a violation of human rights the Israeli public and the civil liberties types among them were not terribly upset even if the courts did receive petitions against the move.

But nothing happened, and for good reason. Just imagine the orange wave of demonstrators crushing their way towards the Kissufim checkpoint in their attempt to enter the Gaza Strip – and then the Hamas/Islamic Jihad/El Aksa or whomever, opens up with Kassam rocket and mortar fire. There would be hundreds and possibly thousands of casualties. It was a true choice of democracy vs. personal safety. Furthermore Israel would be forced into a major military operation in Gaza and certainly would have suffered dozens of dead and wounded.

In an historical rollback, most do not take it too seriously when the settlement activists complain about their rights being violated. How many settlements went up in violation of Israeli law (forget the international community) and when the army was called in to remove them the soldiers were abused and at times beaten? We are talking of not only today, but beginning in the 1970s and 1980s. It was not the majority of settlements, but it was enough not to forget. The settlement movement has been violating the law for years, in the name of a Higher Authority and most Israelis are less than sympathetic towards such actions.

The populace knows the government turned a blind eye towards such violations and in the end made most settlements legal (by Israeli law) but it did not change the attitude of the average Israeli that the settlement movement had an excess of rights. On the other hand no one can take from Gush Emmunim and the "Orange Wave" their ideological purity and pioneering spirit. They are the most ardently Zionist and possibly the only truly pure ideological movement remaining, at least for the moment.

This is all known to the settlement leadership. As a movement they have enormous discipline. For three days they challenged the government while under the media microscope, suffered physical difficulties in the desert heat wave, never lost control or became violent and in the end dispersed. Their point was made: "This was not to happen a second time!" Although certain rabbis spoke to the contrary and the demonstrators shrieked at the soldiers and police to disobey orders, the settlement leadership supported the police and army chain of command, condemning the calls to disobey directives (true – this was done afterwards). Tactically the settlers may have won but everyone knows they failed - if the intent was to save Jewish settlement in Gaza.

But that was not really the case. Although there are certain Messianists among them, the settlement activists and leadership are realists for the most part. They understand that considering Israel's position in the international community and the Middle East, they all went "A Bridge Too Far". They also are fully aware that if the average Israeli is forced to choose between the state authority and the Heavenly Inspiration of the rabbis they will come down on the side of the secular state. Dual sovereignty between state and religion is an issue faced by the orthodox, not anyone else and they too side with the state. Just look at the amount of soldiers and police wearing kippot: when on earth they stand with the state entity.

The orange leadership and especially the rabbis will lose credibility with many of the religious. Speaking in the name of God is tricky business, because if you do so you have to win all the time or maybe the Holy One is not quite one's patron. The settlers' political leadership held back but the rabbis certainly overplayed their hand.

When it is finished the Gush Emmunim activists and their allies will face a choice – they can identify with the earthly State of Israel and continue to lead within the frameworks acceptable to the people or they can quit. The latter will no longer identify with modern political Zionism, but rather the ideal of a Messianic Greater Land of Israel.

So let us be clear about the outcome – the Gaza Jewish settlements are lost. However the vast majority of the National Religious camp will remain as full partners and leaders in the earthy Zionist movement and accept the will of the people (government, Knesset, etc.). And being the only well disciplined ideological movement nation wide, one can expect them to take quite a few leadership positions in the future and to continue being a major influence on Israeli society.