The fate of Migron, an illegal outpost in the heart of the West Bank, is about to be decided. The implications of this decision are about far more than the future of a handful of settlers in a single outpost. This decision will be a litmus test of Israeli rule of law and, ultimately, of Israel's capacity to make peace with the Palestinians.
How can one outpost be so important?
Outposts are settlements that have been built in the West Bank without Israeli government authorization, in violation of Israeli law. Migron is the flagship of the settlers' illegal outpost enterprise -- one of the largest and most developed outposts and the shining symbol of the settlers' determination to overcome the Israeli government's longstanding policy against establishing new settlements.
Migron is an open-and-shut case of theft, the physical embodiment of the settlers' contempt for Israeli law. Migron is built entirely on land that Israel recognizes as privately-owned by Palestinians. Its establishment and expansion over the past decade epitomizes the corruption that is endemic in Israel's rule in the West Bank, since neither could have taken place without Israeli government officials aiding and abetting settlers' law-breaking.
And the persistence of Migron's existence -- despite its blatant illegality and despite repeated Israeli government promises to dismantle it imminently -- discloses the settlers' and the Israeli government's flagrant disregard for Israeli law and the Israeli Supreme Court.
Last August, after more than 5 years of Israeli government foot-dragging in various legal proceedings, that Court finally laid down a deadline for dismantling Migron: March 31, 2012. With that date fast approaching, the Netanyahu government and the Knesset are now scrambling to find a way circumvent Israeli law and the Court's decision. They are trying to find a "compromise" to appease settler law-breakers (not the first such effort), or to come up with a way to twist Israeli law to kosher the settlers' criminal acts. This response to the Court points to an increasingly alarming problem in Israel: sacrificing rule of law to further a far right-wing, anti-democratic ideology. It highlights a longstanding reality that few have wanted to admit: the Israeli political system has to a great degree been hijacked by the settlers and their supporters, in the service of an agenda that openly seeks to keep all or most of the West Bank in Israeli hands in perpetuity, at the cost of any chance for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Any future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will require the establishment of a viable, contiguous state of Palestine alongside Israel. Land swaps may allow most Israeli settlers to remain in their homes, but even the best agreement (from an Israeli perspective) will necessitate the evacuation of settlements located deep inside the West Bank. Migron is located deep inside the West Bank, in an area that cannot possibly remain under Israeli sovereignty in any future agreement.
If the government refuses to remove Migron, even with law and the rulings of the court requiring it to do so, it will send an unmistakable message: Israel today prefers settlements to peace. If Netanyahu claims he can't remove Migron, because taking on the settlers will bring down his government, it will send another message: Israel is today so deeply in thrall to the settlers that it is incapable of making peace, even if it wanted to.
Finally, should the Israeli government find a way to "kosher" the settlers' land theft in Migron, it will give a green light for the settlers to build illegally everywhere in the West Bank, knowing that no one, not even the Supreme Court, can or will stop them. In such a case, even if a future Israeli government is more serious about peace than the current one, settler actions on the ground will undoubtedly seek to block any agreement.
The case of Migron is thus not simply about the fate of one outpost. It is a test whose results will reveal whether Israel can continue to uphold even the pretense of being a nation of laws, in which the rule of law reigns supreme, or if it will instead openly embrace "rule by law" -- an ugly characteristic of a totalitarian state. Likewise, the fate of Migron will disclose whether settler influence has so deeply penetrated Israeli policy and governance that Israel is no longer capable of upholding even the pretense of a commitment to the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
(By Lara Friedman, originally published on the Huffington Post, February 14, 2012)