Settlers: Don’t mess with someone who has nothing to lose

Nov 06, 2008 Published under Israel, Mideast Negotiations, Palestine

Ehud Olmert is on his way out.  He was attacked by former supporters who turned on him when his political positions evolved.  Now he has nothing to lose.  And it shows – finally he is standing up to extremists Jewish settlers, freezing funds and deploying legal tools like administrative detentions, arrests, and trials against Illegal settlers.

Israel Will Halt Funds to Illegal Settlements, NY Times, Nov 3, Isabel Kershner

JERUSALEM — Ehud Olmert, the departing prime minister of Israel, announced a series of measures on Sunday in response to a rise in violence by extremist Jewish settlers in the West Bank, including a halt to all direct or indirect government financing of illegal outposts.

The announcement amounted to an acknowledgment that public funds were still being spent on the outposts, contrary to government policy and despite a longstanding pledge to the United States to remove at least two dozen settlements immediately.

Militant settlers in the southern West Bank clashed over the weekend with Israeli soldiers and border police officers who came to remove an illegal home built near the settlement of Kiryat Arba, adjacent to Hebron.

Settlers also have damaged Palestinian property in the area in recent days as part of a policy they call “price tag,” in which a price is exacted against Palestinians for actions against the outposts by the army or the police.

In the weekly cabinet meeting here, Mr. Olmert said the overwhelming majority of Jewish settlers were law-abiding citizens. “But,” he said, “there is also a not small group of wild people who behave in a way that threatens proper law and governance, not only in the areas in which they live, but also in the overall atmosphere of the state of Israel.”

Among the measures Mr. Olmert proposed for curbing the violence were an increase in law enforcement personnel, arrests and timely trials; the use of administrative detention and restraining orders against settlers who break the law; and a halt to public financing of the illegal outposts.

In the West Bank not including East Jerusalem, there are at least 120 official settlements with more than 260,000 Jewish residents. Most of the international community views all Jewish construction in the areas conquered by Israel in the 1967 war as illegal; the United States regards the settlements as an obstacle to peace.

A 2005 report on the outposts found widespread collusion among officials in successive governments to spend state funds to build outposts, in contravention of stated policy and law. The report was commissioned, under pressure from Washington, by Ariel Sharon, then the prime minister, and was researched and written by Talia Sasson, a former state prosecutor.

Asked what sort of government funds were still making their way to the outposts, Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr. Olmert, referred to the Sasson report and to government financing of settler regional councils in the West Bank. He said that the government would “have to be more careful” about where public funds were going.

Dani Dayan, the chairman of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization that represents the settlers, attacked Mr. Olmert’s announcement about financing as “collective punishment” and said that politicians were mounting a campaign of incitement and demonization against the settlers before the national elections set for Feb. 10.

Mr. Dayan said that the only government investment in the outposts today was indirect, in the form of the regional council funds, which go to services like garbage collection and school buses. “Does this mean that they won’t clear the garbage?” Mr. Dayan asked, adding that he hoped “this bad government will be replaced with a better one in four months.”

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