- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 21, 2003

MIGRON OUTPOST, West Bank — Jewish settler leaders vowed yesterday to enlist tens of thousands of demonstrators to block any attempt by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government to evacuate this hilltop community of 150 residents just east of Ramallah.

The settlement leaders told five visiting parliament members that their hilltop collection of trailers would become ground zero in the movement’s struggle to resist the removal of settlements.

The settlers say they have brought in supplies of food and water, tents, generators and portable toilets for use by the expected sympathizers during what could be a lengthy siege.

Mr. Sharon declared in a speech last week that Israel will evacuate illegal outposts such as Migron as part of a commitment to following the U.S.-sponsored “road map” peace plan with the Palestinians.

Even if there is no agreement with the Palestinians, Mr. Sharon said, Israel may act unilaterally to draw a boundary that will require the evacuation of some settlements.

“Migron is the beginning of the battle but not the end,” said Shalom Etzer, deputy chairman of the Binyamin Council, an association of settlements in the north-central West Bank.

“The government needs to know that we don’t intend to concede. We will wage a persistent war over this point in the sense that Migron is an example.”

Two weeks ago, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the settlement leaders that Migron would be one of more than a dozen illegal outposts slated for evacuation. Mr. Sharon, however, has yet to give the final go-ahead for the removal of the 4-year-old settlement.

A decision to dismantle Migron would be the most significant action against settlements in the West Bank by any Israeli government since people began setting up Jewish communities in territory occupied after the 1967 Six Day War.

The prime minister is being pushed to act by the failure of tough military action to halt the three-year Palestinian uprising and rising resistance to his tactics from within the security forces, including outspoken statements by the chief of staff and four former intelligence chiefs.

Yesterday, Israeli media reported that 13 fighters in the country’s most celebrated commando unit have written to Mr. Sharon that they no longer will serve in the West Bank and Gaza Strip because they believe the army’s operations there are immoral.

Lawmakers from hard-line parties in Mr. Sharon’s coalition, however, say they will push to break up the governing partnership if the prime minister evacuates any settlement. Even members of Mr. Sharon’s Likud Party say they will try to block a decision to dismantle Migron.

“We will continue to build even when this government believes that terrorism will stop by giving it a prize,” said parliament member Yehiel Hazan.

“I have no doubt that there’s a majority in the parliament for the continuation of settlement, and if the prime minister thinks otherwise, he should make room for someone else.”

Settlement leaders point out that Migron overlooks Ramallah and surrounding settlements, making it key to maintaining Israeli control in the region.

“If Migron is marked for evacuation, there’s no logical reason in the world why Beit El or Ofra will remain in their place,” said Pinchas Wallerstein, head of the Binyamin Council, referring to neighboring settlements. “The upshot is an existential threat to communities around Jerusalem that Ariel Sharon may want to remain in.”

The 43 families at Migron, mostly couples in their 20s and 30s with infants, came to the hilltop driven by what they feel is a responsibility of Jews to reclaim all of biblical Israel.

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