The Rice-Weissglas compromise, which stipulated that Israel would evacuate 26 outposts established in the West Bank after the Sharon government came to power in March 2001 (in the meantime, that number has been reduced to 23), is no longer accepted by the Americans. The daily Maariv has reported that the United States is now demanding the evacuation of more than 100 outposts
The outposts are a continuation of the settlements by other means. The sharp distinction Israel makes between them is artificial. Every outpost is established with a direct connection to a mother settlement, with the clear aim of expanding the takeover of the territory and ensuring an Israeli hold on a wider tract of land. Construction in the outposts is integrated into the overall plan of the settlement project and is carried out in parallel to the seizure of lands within and close to the settlements.
The settler establishment’s efforts are now aimed in other directions – building in the settlements and veteran outposts (often involving the smuggling in of parts of mobile homes, because the Civil Administration is now preventing the transport of such homes in their entirety) and taking over agricultural lands, some of which are privately owned by Palestinians. The advantage of the latter tactic is that maximum area is obtained with a tolerable monetary investment and a low profile is maintained. Dirt roads are being blazed, vineyards are being planted and the actual area of the settlements is growing, dunam by dunam.
Behind every settlement action there is a planning and thinking mind that has access to the state’s database and maps, and help from sympathetic officers serving in key positions in the IDF and the Civil Administration. The story is not in the settlers’ uncontrolled behavior, though there is evidence of this on some of the hilltops, but rather in conscious choices by the state to enforce very little of the law.
With Obama’s ultimatum, the settlers are for the first time encountering a serious opponent to their project. The increasing Israeli dependence on the United States, like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rapid folding on the issue of a two-state solution, reflects this. The declarations by the settlers – from their leaders to the hilltop fanatics – of their intention to oppose any evacuation, testify to the lack of confidence that the entire settlement project is irreversible. The fate of the settlements and outposts to the east of the barrier is still in question. The number of building starts in the West Bank in 2008 was 40 percent greater than during the previous year. Taking over the private property of someone who belongs to the neighboring people is a common phenomenon in the West Bank, even in recent years.