- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 6, 2003

TEL CHAYIM, West Bank — The evacuation of the Tel Chayim settler outpost this week was a relatively orderly affair.

In the morning, trucks equipped with cranes removed four pre-fabricated buildings from the West Bank hilltop.

A small gathering of children from the nearby settlement of Beit El staged a symbolic protest against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s promise to evacuate dozens of new settlements as part of the U.S.-sponsored “road map” peace plan.

By the afternoon, there was little left at Tel Chayim other than an assortment of junked metal bed frames, a lone guardhouse and several Israeli flags rippling in the mountaintop wind.

“It was all a show,” said Haggai Yablovitch, a chatty security guard left alone on the hilltop yesterday afternoon. “Whoever operates wisely wins. In the end [the hill] will all be annexed [by Israel].”

In other words, Monday’s dismantling of Tel Chayim marked a tactical retreat and not a change of heart by Jewish settlers, who say they are determined to remain entrenched in the West Bank hilltops they have claimed in recent years.

Just over a month ago, it took the Israeli army almost an entire day of clashes with thousands of settler protesters before it could remove an outpost near the settlement of Yitzhar.

The calm of Tel Chayim evacuation stemmed from the fact that the settlers from nearby Beit El negotiated the dismantlement with the army.

Mr. Yablovitch compared the latest settler strategy to the practice by the Palestinian Authority of arresting and then releasing militants wanted by Israel.

“Its just like the revolving door of the Palestinians,” said Mr. Yablovitch, who wore a army fatigue knitted yarmulke. “They do their part and we do ours.”

Under the initial phase of the U.S. peace plan, Israel must dismantle some 50 outposts established since March 2001. Israel, for its part, has affirmed that it will remove outposts that it considers illegal.

But the pace of the outpost removal has been gradual. Since the formal announcement of the road map in June, Israel’s Defense Ministry says 23 of the outposts have been dismantled, most of which have had few if any inhabitants.

“All of those outposts should be dismantled by the end of Phase I [of the peace plan], and we’re certainly not there yet,” said a U.S. official who wished to remain anonymous. “It seems that nothing serious has been done on that.”

So far, Mr. Sharon’s government has tied Israeli concessions under the road map to progress by Palestinians on their commitment to rein in terrorist groups.

Ben-Gurion University political science professor David Newman said no large outposts have been evacuated because the government can’t stomach a confrontation with the settlers.

In the meantime, settler leaders have implemented a multipronged strategy to resist the evacuation plan, which includes submitting legal challenges to the evacuation, establishing new outposts, building up existing ones, and choosing their battles carefully. At Tel Chayim, settlers negotiated the evacuation knowing that they had a weak legal case, the Hebrew daily Ha’aretz reported.

“The settlers decided that it would be better for them, and it would look better on TV, if they didn’t clash with the army,” said Nurit Wallerstein, a spokeswoman for the panel of settler leaders from the West Bank and Gaza Strip known as the Yesha Council.

But in other places throughout the West Bank, the infant settlements are quietly adding new buildings and hooking up to electrical grids. With every new mobile home plunked down in an outpost, the task of removing the settlers will become more difficult, according to the settlers.

“We are in a worse place from the perspective on facts on the ground than we were a month and a half ago,” complained Dror Etkes, who has been monitoring the outpost growth for Peace Now, a dovish group that has tracked the outpost expansion in recent years.

Israel’s government “is lying to the people and telling them that they’re doing something when they’re not,” Mr. Etkes said.

Mr. Etkes claimed that the government has only removed about 12 outposts since the beginning of June. Several more are slated to come down soon, according to the government.

Earlier this week, settlers at the Givat Haroeh outpost got an evacuation notice from Israel’s government. But the inhabitants on this hilltop said they weren’t worried about the notice — it’s the fifth they’ve received so far.

“Every abandonment of land will increase attacks,” said Yaniv, a bachelor who came to the hilltop because one of the founders was a good friend.

The outpost was established nine months ago as a satellite of the veteran settlement of Eli, located on a neighboring hilltop on the other side of the West Bank’s main north-south highway. The hilltop also happens to lie at the edge of the wheat fields owned by farmers from the nearby Palestinian village of Sinjeel.

With 10 buildings, the outpost is home to eight families and four bachelors. Residents of the outpost, most of whom are in their 20s and 30s, say they were motivated by ideology. Such settlers believe the West Bank was given by God to the biblical nation of Israel.

They are not like the many Israelis who came to established settlements in search of cheap real estate.

In between the rows of buildings, the metal beams for a greenhouse have been erected. A guard at the outpost explained that residents want to become farmers and cultivate the land.

If the army ever makes it here, it will need more than cranes to hoist the buildings away. Construction of permanent houses is already under way.

An expansion of the Givat Haroeh is already in the works for new arrivals to the infant settlement. Just beyond the mobile homes, rows of iron rods jut out from the concrete foundations for six houses.

“This is the style right now,” jokes Daniel, a van driver, who moved a wife and young child from a house in Eli to the virgin hilltop. “I don’t deny that there’s fear, but the ideology defeats the fear.”

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