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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.

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Clashes between the military and residents and their supporters could hurt the reputation of Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu within his own Likud Party, which has a growing cadre of settler activists. 

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Fearing an unpopular confrontation with settlers, successive Israeli governments have asked the Supreme Court for delays in evacuating Migron, saying it's not the right time to risk domestic political unrest. Last year, the Supreme Court put its foot down and began setting deadlines for evacuation.

"Migron has been the symbol of the outposts, so the issue is important," wrote David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in an e-mail. 

"With the Iranian nuclear issue heating up and officials wanting to keep the deeply deadlocked Palestinian issue from being a point of contention at a very delicate time, Netanyahu may find the court ruling to be the political cover and forcing action he needs at this time."

The upside for the prime minister is that he will be able to portray himself to the world and to the Israeli mainstream as strong enough to resist the demands of political allies.

But many believe that settlement expansion is heading toward a tipping point at which Israel will no longer be able to handle evacuating the settlers because it will become too big a job. Settler leader Dani Dayan, chairman of the Yesha Council in the West Bank, argued in a commentary published in The New York Times last month that Israel has already passed the point of no-return on the settlements.

Our presence in all of Judea and Samaria [the term frequently used by settlers to describe the West Bank] – not just in the so-called settlement blocs – is an irreversible fact. Trying to stop settlement expansion is futile, and neglecting this fact in diplomatic talks will not change the reality on the ground; it only makes the negotiations more likely to fail.

Given the irreversibility of the huge Israeli civilian presence in Judea and Samaria and continuing Palestinian rejectionism, Western governments must reassess their approach to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Peace activists won another court battle earlier this summer when the court forced the government to evacuate and dismantle five apartment buildings in the Ulpana neighborhood of the Beit El settlement, but the government promised to build hundreds of new settlement units to compensate the settlers.

"From within the Israeli narrative it is significant, but when you take a step back and you look... the settlement enterprise isn’t slowing," says a Western diplomat based in Jerusalem, noting that the population of the settlements grows at twice the rate of Israeli communities inside Israel's 1967 borders.

Indeed, Yediot Ahronot columnist Nahum Barnea argued that even though evicting Migron is necessary from a legal standpoint, its importance is marginal. The settlers and right wingers goal of preventing a Palestinian state in the West Bank has been realized.

"You could say that the mission has been accomplished," he wrote. "Now all that’‎s left is to fight over the crumbs."

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