The recent announcement by Labor Party Chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak regarding his support for “evacuation-compensation” legislation revived the public debate on the question of isolated settlements located beyond the separation fence.
The terror waves early in the decade and the construction of the fence in their wake led to a situation whereby roughly 65,000 settlers in about 74 settlements currently reside to the east of the fence, deep in the heart of the West Bank.
The basis of the “evacuation-compensation” bill is the Israeli government’s moral obligation to enable settlers residing to the east of the fence to move back to within the Green Line at this time.
It is no surprise that settler leaders and Judea and Samaria officials, whose job is to represent all residents living in their area, chose to overwhelmingly object to the initiative being formulated and turn their back on all those settlers who are willing to leave their homes immediately.
This is not the first time where settler leaders are abandoning their constituencies in order to score political points. On the eve of disengagement, Yesha Council heads and rightist Knesset members called on residents of Gush Katif and northern Samaria to refrain from entering negotiations on compensation and avoid any cooperation with authorities in charge of the evacuation.
The price of the boycott and lack of cooperation with government decisions was paid by Gush Katif evacuees, who found themselves facing economic and mental distress in the wake of the evacuation. Part of this distress could have been prevented.
Time to admit to historical mistakes
Now, rightist leaders are again crying out and objecting to the possibility of providing settlers east of the fence with the option of leaving voluntarily in exchange for compensation and moving back to within the Green Line.
It is no secret that settler leaders have a reason to worry. Thousands of settlers no longer believe in the Greater Israel vision and realize that the future of the settlements where they live has already been decided. Settler leaders are now forced to engage in a rearguard battle against the move being formulated only so that their ideological distress would not be exposed.
If Yesha Council leaders are indeed convinced that the settlers are determined to take over every hill in the territories, they should be the first ones to back the “evacuation-compensation” law and thus prove the determination of all settlers to hold on to all parts of the West Bank.
The proposed law is first and foremost a humane move aimed at resolving a serious problem for tens of thousands of settlers who live with uncertainty, a sense of isolation, and the knowledge that in the near future they will have to evacuate their homes in any case.
The Israeli government must not engage in diplomatic talks on the backs of the settlers and keep them as hostages outside the fence. This is the time to look in their eyes, admit to historical mistakes, and allow them to move back to within the Green Line now.
Yariv Oppenheimr is the secretary-general of Peace Now