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With Migron outpost evacuation, Israeli settlers lose the battle – but not the war

Israeli peace activists are celebrating this week's Supreme Court order to evacuate the Migron outpost, but the settler population continues to expand in the background of such standoffs.

By Correspondent / September 1, 2012

Jewish settlers stand as they talk in the unauthorized West Bank Jewish settlement of Migron, Thursday, Aug. 30.

Sebastian Scheiner/AP

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Tel Aviv

Israel is on the verge of the its largest settler evacuation in seven years after the Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Migron outpost residents to postpone an order to evacuate land that the government says belongs to Palestinians.

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Israeli peace activists are hailing the Sept. 4 eviction deadline as a landmark victory in which the court forced the hand of the government against efforts to unilaterally establish new towns in areas claimed by the Palestinians. But Migron’s 50 families are a fraction of the continuously expanding settler population of more than 300,000, a growth trend that makes a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict less and less possible.

"This is one baby step forward," says Sam Bahour, a Ramallah-based businessman who sees the move as an effort by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to curry favor with the US administration. "It's not a change of heart and a not a change of policy, and that’s what is needed."

For Israelis, Migron is the flagship of the dozens of unauthorized outposts established in the 1990s and early 2000s to dramatically expand the footprint of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, flouting a policy upheld by successive Israeli administrations not to give formal cabinet approval to new settlements. However, the Palestinians and most of the international community consider all of Israel’s settlement activity in the West Bank as illegal under international law.

Israel has been reluctant to evacuate the outposts, despite a promise to the US and an admission by the state attorney that many sit on Palestinian land. For many, that symbolizes the influence of the settler lobby on Israeli policy and government acquiescence in their goals of making a Palestinian state physically unworkable.

"In the last 45 years, almost everything they manage to set up, they managed to continue and expand… despite government policy," says Hagit Ofran, a settlement monitor for the NGO Peace Now, which challenged Migron in court. "This shows that this cannot go on any longer, and even the settlers, who are so powerful and successful can be stopped."

Migron residents contend that the government, which hooked them up to water and electricity networks while providing security, is a partner in establishing the hilltop outpost. Their assertions that the land was legally purchased from Palestinian owners have so far been rejected by Israeli courts.

The treeless hilltop overlooks Ramallah to the west and Jerusalem to the south. Most of the dwellings are mobile homes, although a small synagogue built from stone and a playground highlight how the residents have tried to make their presence there permanent.

"This place has been here for 13 years. … You see buildings, infrastructure, and a child care center," Itai Harel, a Migron founder, said earlier this year. "It’s a place that’s alive and kicking… residents here see themselves as part of the state."

Israeli television described the residents as "shocked" by the court ruling. The government has prepared a new neighborhood of mobile homes for Migron evacuees on a nearby hilltop.

A statement from Migron's leaders in response to the Supreme Court decision used harsh and confrontational language that suggests a clash next week is likely, despite a vow from residents to resist the eviction nonviolently. 

"Today is a dark day for the State of Israel, a day in which the basic rights of citizens have been trampled.… The government of Israel will not be able to wash its hands of the brutal rape that is being carried out under its open eyes, through its silent approval,'' said the statement. "Today, the Prime Minister has gone down in eternal infamy as a member of a destructive band of preceding prime ministers that chose to raise a hand to the Settlement Enterprise in the Land of Israel.''

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