There is nothing at all positive to say about the news that Netanyahu has asked Barak to delay implementing an IDF order to evacuate the settlers who moved into a house across from the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The settlers appear to have legally bought the building from its Palestinian owner (although it was done through a front man so that the owner would not know that it was being bought by Jews, which is a sad commentary on both sides) and then moved in without the proper permits, and were ordered to leave by the IDF so as not to disturb public order. Bibi then asked Barak not to enforce the army’s order, but that request has apparently been rejected.
It’s important to be up front about what is going on here. There cannot be a policy of settlers and their supporters cheering on the IDF when it makes determinations in the name of national security about the route of the security fence, or decides where Palestinians can or cannot travel within the West Bank, or enforces a West Bank closure during Jewish holidays, but then slamming the IDF when it uses the same security rationale on settlers. If it is the job of the IDF to keep the general peace in the areas under military occupation, then its decisions cannot be questioned only when they apply to one side but not to the other.
It is also crucial to recognize that the settlers in Hebron, or Migron for that matter, are not there because of cheap housing, government subsidies, or a desire to live in proximity to Jerusalem. They are also not living in large towns over the Green Line that everyone presumes will become part of Israel proper in an eventual deal with the Palestinians. The argument about applying patience and understanding with these types of non-ideological settlers – one which I understand and sympathize with – does not apply in any way, shape, or form to the 500 folks who decide to live in Hebron for purely ideological and religious reasons. I have been to Hebron and visited the homes of the settlers who live there, and they are true believers in every sense of the word. They do not live there for economic reasons or because the government made it easy for them to do so. They live there because they fervently believe in the righteousness of their cause, which is ensuring that there is a Jewish presence throughout the entire biblical land of Israel, and particularly in Hebron, which is the holiest city in Judaism outside of Jerusalem. There is no logical argument that can possibly be made justifying their presence there on security grounds, and they do not intend to vacate when asked, nor do they make any pretenses of hiding their abhorrence at the idea of an independent Palestinian state.
Now, they are certainly entitled to their opinions and their views, and they have the right to espouse them as loudly as anyone else. But when Netanyahu attempts to delay a military order that was issued in order to avoid a messy situation that might easily degenerate into violence, let’s not pretend that it has anything to do with Israel’s legitimate security needs or the lack of a true Palestinian partner for peace. There are many good reasons why Israel cannot pick up and immediately leave the West Bank, and even though I think this needs to happen as soon as possible, I am all too familiar with the real security concerns presented by the Palestinian response following the Gaza disengagement. The group of settlers in Hebron, however, is well outside the realm of real security concerns. They recognize the danger of being there, and yet they remain despite the danger they create for others by doing so. Their presence there is on purely ideological grounds and has nothing to do with Israel’s defense. So when Netanyahu puts forth his litany of reasons for why Israel cannot leave the West Bank, remember that none of those reasons apply when he asks his defense minister to contravene an army order that was issued to prevent a possible conflagration in Hebron. This is craven politics, pure and simple, and like I wrote about Migron, nothing good can possibly come out of this. It just reinforces what an intractable situation Israel has gotten itself into, and how difficult it is going to be to eventually reach a negotiated peace agreement.