Settlements Keep Growing Despite Migron Setback

Illegal Outpost Moved Down Hill, at Israeli Taxpayer's Expense

Pulled Down: Israeli police evacuate illegal settlers from West Bank outpost of Migron.
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Pulled Down: Israeli police evacuate illegal settlers from West Bank outpost of Migron.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published September 16, 2012.
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Peace Now argues that whatever settler building results from the Migron evacuation, it still constitutes a major success. “The number of housing units is not my meter for success or failure,” Sfard said. “The important thing is that we’ve brought the grabbing of Palestinian land to an end.”

In his view, the evacuation, together with the evacuation of 30 homes in Beit El earlier in the summer, has sent settlers an important message that building on privately owned Palestinian land won’t be tolerated.

Even more, Peace Now claims that the Migron case has put an end to unauthorized outpost building as a whole. The settlement movement first built wildcat settlements or outposts in the late 1990s and early 2000s in response to a freeze imposed on establishing new settlements after the signing of the Oslo peace agreement with the Palestinians in 1993. But since Peace Now filed its petition on Migron six years ago, the settler leadership has not established any new outposts.

“If it weren’t for the threat of court, I believe they would have continued,” senior Peace Now official Hagit Ofran said, adding: “They wanted to make Migron the flagship of a new generation of settlements, and it didn’t work out at all.”

For Ofran, the Migron case is a “resounding victory for Israel democracy and rule of law,” because it subjected settlers to the court’s ruling.

She also believes that it kept settlements on the agenda during its six years in court. “Migron is not only about the removal of 50 families, it was a major issue of the government and public discourse for years,” Ofran said. “If we didn’t have it, I believe the debate on settlements would have been far less strong.

Arzi of the Yesha Council, which controls the main settlement building company, Amana, denied that it was Peace Now’s suit that ended outpost building. “It’s because of pressures [on Israel] from the U.S. government — nothing to do with Peace Now,” he said.

Many analysts expected violence and mass demonstrations upon Migron’s evacuation. But the process went smoothly and calmly. This has strengthened the credibility of those who see evacuations of at least small communities as more manageable.

Still, the idea that Peace Now’s court petition backfired doesn’t seem to be just settler spin; it is heard in the Israeli center and on the left, as well. And Ashraf Khatib, spokesman for the Palestinian negotiating team, said he considers the evacuation “irrelevant, because they are not moving the settlers to outside occupied territory.”

Yediot Aharonot columnist Nahum Barnea, Israel’s best-known journalist, told the Forward that evacuating Migron served as a kind of smokescreen, diverting attention onto the issue of whether occupied land is privately owned and away from what he views as the key issues: the illegality of all settlement building under international law, and the impediment it poses to a peace process.

Migron has become the “exception that proved the rule,” he said — a rare evacuation because of the fact it lay on privately owned land, implicitly proving the “rule” that it’s acceptable to settle anywhere else. The construction that has stemmed from this principle, he said, appears to have made the two-state solution unviable.

“Barnea is choosing the easy way of despairing of everything,” Ofran responded. “It is not pragmatic to say, “If I can’t meet all my goals in one day, I don’t need small victories along the way.’”

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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