Since the murder of four Israeli civilians in a shooting attack at the settlement of Eli last Tuesday, settlers have responded in two ways that combine into a sort of pincer movement.

On the one hand, they set up farms and outposts, returning to one evacuated outpost, to create facts on the ground. On the other hand, hundreds of youths have sought violent revenge in Palestinian villages, burning countless homes and cars while attacking residents. The government directly encourages the first move. It winks at the second, then issues a partial disavowal of the incident, which has little impact.

Settlers, encouraged by far-right cabinet ministers, returned to the Evyatar outpost, evacuated last year by the previous government, after the murder. It was a direct continuation of the move last month to relocate the yeshiva of the evacuated settlement of Homesh to a nearby site. Both moves were illegal. Not only does the army not do anything to prevent these illegal moves, but in fact receives direct orders from the government not to intervene. Then it deploys soldiers to protect lawbreakers. “Run to the hilltops,” National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir told settlers during a visit to Evyatar on Friday. Meanwhile, two other illegal outposts and five illegal farms popped up across Samaria.

Not that the settlers felt they were being restrained previously. In recent weeks, it became clear that the process of transferring authorities from the Defense Ministry to another minister, Bezalel Smotrich – as called for in the coalition agreement – was beginning to bear fruit for them. Enforcement against building violations by Jews has plunged to a minimum. The government approved shortening the process of obtaining construction permits in the West Bank and putting this in Smotrich’s hands. Some 4,600 units were approved for settlement construction prior to last week’s attack, and another 1,000 were approved in its wake.

Security officials on Sunday predicted that the outposts established last week won’t be evacuated, despite being clearly illegal. They weren’t particularly impressed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration at the opening of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, in which he said that grabbing territory “is unacceptable to me and must stop immediately.” They regarded this as strictly lip service.

The other more horrifying settler response originates from the hilltops, but is not limited to these illegal outposts. It would be a mistake to attribute the daily violent pogroms only to the so-called “hilltop youth” from the outposts. Video clips of the incidents, distributed by the Palestinians, also show older people taking part, some of whom probably live in the more established settlements. The presence of armed Israeli militants, sometimes discharging their weapons, is prominent. They use army weapons, and the shooters are conscript soldiers on their break, or members of the settlements’ patrol squads. One soldier has been arrested so far, on suspicion of involvement in the settler rampage at the West Bank village of Umm Safa last Saturday. There are many more like him and hundreds that have joined the rampages.

In a joint message issued by the IDF chief of staff, the head of the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Police commissioner on Saturday night, the three called a spade a spade. They labelled the rampages “ultranationalist terror in every sense” which the security forces are obligated to fight. Netanyahu backed them up on Sunday. But the rioters hear different messages from the government. Smotrich, who called for wiping out Hawara in February but had to walk back his statement, called on the security forces to focus on fighting Arab terror. He assailed the attempt to draw a parallel between acts of terror on both sides.

Like other cabinet ministers, he too pays lip service saying “don’t take the law into your own hands” (is a Palestinian terrorist also only “taking the law into his own hands”? ). But the double message to the rioters is well understood. This government has a hard core supporting them that will halt any attempt to restrain them.

Smotrich also criticized the army’s exceptional step of checking vehicles leaving the West Bank settlement of Ateret on Saturday night, following the pogrom in the adjacent village of Umm Safa. The settlers marked the commander of the Binyamin Territorial Brigade, Col. Eliav Elbaz, as a target. He is not alone, of course. A campaign has been waged for two months against the head of IDF Central Command Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, who is accused of neglecting settler security and getting in their way.

The settlers are particularly infuriated about restraining orders and administrative detention orders against Jewish terror suspects. Some senior security officials are recommending these steps be expanded significantly. They want dozens of such orders. They say that in the absence of such intervention, the violence will only stop after a Palestinian family is murdered, as happened in the village of Duma in 2015 after a firebombing of a home killed three members of the Dawabsheh family.

The army, police and Shin Bet are far from deserving a medal of honor for handling Jewish terror in the territories. In contrast to the fight against Palestinian terrorism, the motivation for dealing with the explosive problem of Jewish terror is weak at all levels. But the extreme right wing of the settlers, who for the first time have significant representation in government, wants even more. It seeks to brand specific officers as dangerous suspected leftists so as to deter them from any action.

Ben-Gvir’s biggest fear

When Ben-Gvir isn’t busy pouring fuel on the fire in the West Bank, he takes care to do the same in the Golan Heights and the Galilee. On Saturday night, Netanyahu bypassed the national security minister and behind his back reached understandings with Druze community leaders. The Golan wind turbine works, which provoked stiff Druze resistance last week, were put on hold on Sunday and will remain so for at least a week, until after the holiday of Eid al-Adha. Ben-Gvir had insisted on continuing them with the works this week right up until the holiday. However, this time Netanyahu heeded the unequivocal warnings by the security establishment and halted the turbine works.

People who discussed the talks on the issue with Ben-Gvir were amazed by the style and substance of the minister’s positions. “All that interested him was that Ahmad Tibi wouldn’t laugh at him,” said one, referring to the Member of Knesset from the Arab Hadash-Ta’al party. “He feared that if he agreed to an immediate hiatus of the works that he would be perceived as weak and get beat up by the left.”

This past weekend Netanyahu was required to convene meetings or hold consultations about a host of urgent issues: violence in the territories, handling of the new illegal outposts, the Druze protest that became violent and the dire crisis in Russia, which seems to have calmed down for the moment but could spark a mass exodus of emigrants to Israel. At the same time, in the background, there have been developments in his corruption trial. First came exceptional statements by the judges about the bribery charge in one of the three cases. Sunday saw the beginning of testimony in Britain by the key witness against him, billionaire Arnon Milchan, in another of the cases. The coalition is seeking this week to renew the campaign to overhaul the judiciary.

Under this flood of events, with most of the ministers patently unfit for their roles, the government is operating in a constant atmosphere of chaos. Netanyahu, who continues to express what look like empty promises about blowing up Iranian nuclear sites and a nearing normalization deal with Saudi Arabia, barely controls developments. He is steeped in a constant battle for survival, but lately it looks like reality is closing in on him from all sides.

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Article source: Haaretz | Amos Harel | Jun 25, 2023

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000