Co-authored by Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran + APN’s Lara Friedman
The recent evacuation of the illegal outpost known as Migron, following numerous decisions of the Israeli Supreme Court, is a clear victory for democracy and rule of law in Israel, notwithstanding the fact that marks neither the end of settlement activity nor the beginning of the implementation of the two-state solution. After years of legal battles, Peace Now succeeded in having the Court compel the Israeli government to respect and enforce its own laws, despite strong political pressure not to.
Some argue that the Migron victory is nonetheless pyrrhic, given the current Israeli government’s de facto policy of compensating the settlers for any eviction with even more settlement construction. The reality is both more complicated and more promising. There are many lessons to be learned from the Migron case, including some negative implications alongside the positive ones. We believe that the bottom line is that due to Peace Now’s indefatigable efforts to stop the settlements, the ground today is shifting in significant ways against the settlers. The following Top 10 List does not purport to provide a full analysis of the Migron case, but offers some food for thought regarding the achievements and the successes of the story of Migron, and its implications for the future.
1. Migron demonstrates that the forces of peace and security for Israel can stand up to the settlers – and win.
The evacuation of Migron is the first major battle that the settlers have lost since 2005. It is the first time in almost a decade that the settlers failed to create immutable facts on the ground and, in doing so, hijack Israeli policy and set the Israeli public agenda. The settlers had planned to turn Migron into a major settlement with permanent homes and hundreds of families. They dreamed of it becoming a settlement like Ofra or Shilo – one that is in an area that under no possible peace agreement could fall under Israeli sovereignty. Had it not been for Peace Now’s political and legal struggle against Migron, the settlers’ dream would have become reality and Migron would have become another obstacle on the ground to any future peace agreement. Migron also brought into Israeli public discourse the fact that the rights of individual Palestinians as guaranteed by Israel – Palestinians with faces and names – are being systematically abused by settlers. Migron also demonstrated that even in the face of escalating threats, including death threats against Peace Now leaders, Peace Now did not and will not back down in its struggle for peace and security.
2. The Migron evacuation establishes that settlers aren’t above the law.
Migron was an open-and-shut case of land theft under Israeli law. Peace Now’s successful struggle against Migron proved that, ultimately, settlers aren’t above this law. Peace Now succeeded in bringing into the public discourse the issue of this settler land theft, in compelling the government to admit the theft, and, ultimately, in seeing the courts oblige the government to enforce the law on settlers. The evacuation of Migron is thus a resounding victory for Israel democracy and rule of law.
3. The Migron evacuation demonstrates the power of legal action against the settlements.
Migron is a victory for peace, for Israel, and for Peace Now’s strategy of taking cases against the settlers into Israeli courts. The limitations of legal action were known in advance. The occupation won’t be ended by the Court, and neither will the Court rule on what it considers the “political” question of the fate of all the settlements. Nonetheless, the Migron evacuation demonstrates that determined legal action can yield important accomplishments in the struggle against the settlements. Indeed, it is not only a legal success but also as a political one: the case brought an unprecedented level of public attention to the issue of settler arrogance and lawlessness. The saga put the spotlight on settlers who knowingly and willfully defied Israeli law; who had the chutzpah to portray themselves as the victims when they were caught; and who then, at a time when regular Israelis have been demonstrating in the streets over things like housing costs, had the additional chutzpah to complain that the tax-payer-funded pay-off they were offered (in the form of new settlement construction) wasn’t enough. Along the way, it became clear that the Israeli mainstream, including the media, is with Peace Now on this issue. In this way, Migron demonstrates how the legal battle is an important element of the political battle and battle for the hearts and minds of Israelis over settlements.
4. The Migron case confirms that acting against settlements is only a question of political will.
The Migron evacuation, which was carried out without difficulty by Israeli security authorities, underscores the fact that removing settlements is exclusively a question of political will. In the best-case scenario, a decision to do so would be rooted in the political vision of a government that understands what is necessary for peace and security. In another optimistic scenario, such a decision would be rooted in the determination of a government to respect and preserve the norms of a civilized, democratic state and uphold the rule of law. In the current scenario, the decision was rooted in a government that was forced by its own courts to obey the rule of law. On the negative side, this reality underscores the current government’s lack of political vision and lack of commitment to the rule of law. On the positive side, it underscores the strength and independence of Israel’s own legal system and the fact that, when deprived of any other option, even the most right-wing government in Israel’s history will obey its rulings.
5. Migron proves that removing settlements won’t bring down the government or cause a civil war.
The evacuation of Migron demonstrates emphatically that it is indeed possible to remove even very “mainstream” settlers who enjoy massive political backing in the Knesset and inside the government. The evacuation of Migron demonstrates unequivocally that any Israeli government can evacuate a settlement, including the most far right-wing government in Israel’s history. It proves, too, that predictions that a government will fall or a civil war will break out over settlement evacuations are over-wrought, and that threats of bringing down a government over such a decision are hollow (just as were the threats that adopting a settlement moratorium would bring down the government). In doing so, Migron also proves that other settlements can be removed.
6. Migron demonstrates that evacuating settlements need not involve violence.
The Migron evacuation involved no violent confrontations between settlers and soldiers. This, despite the impression created by settler leaders that violence is inevitable if the government threatens their interests, and despite the ongoing “price tag” campaign of terrorist violence and intimidation – a campaign that is explicitly aimed at convincing Israelis and the IDF that taking on the settlers will incur too high a cost to bear. The fact that the evacuation of Migron was peaceful demonstrates that settler violence is by no means inevitable and uncontrollable; rather, settler violence is a weapon that settler leaders deliberately choose how and when to unleash, and for which they must be held accountable.
7. Migron highlights how little the average Israeli cares about defending settlements.
Back in 2005, settlers tried to mobilize the Israeli public to stop Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement. The Israeli public wasn’t interested; the thousands that protested in the streets were only the settlers themselves, without the support of the Israeli mainstream. In 2006, settlers tried to rally the Israeli public to block the evacuation of another illegal outpost (Amona). The Israeli public yawned. In 2009, settlers tried to energize the non-settler Israeli population to oppose any settlement freeze. Israel’s non-settler population didn’t bite. Now, the settlers have done everything they can to convince the public that Israel’s fate is tied to the fate of Migron. The Israeli public once again didn’t buy the hype. The Migron drama never captured the Israeli public’s imagination or sympathy – there were no mass rallies in solidarity with the settlers or other signs that the mainstream Israeli public is invested in the fate of Migron or the settlers’ agenda. This demonstrates how little the average Israeli is invested in the defending settlements and underscores how much room to maneuver any Israeli government actually will have if and when there is a decision to negotiate seriously about settlements in a peace agreement.
8. The Migron evacuation symbolizes the end of the outpost era and the private-land-theft era.
Migron was the flagship of the illegal outpost enterprise – an enterprise begun in the 1990s and predicated on the belief that by creating facts on the ground settlers could circumvent official Israeli policy and subvert Israeli law. The evacuation of Migron – something most believed would never happen – marks the end of the outpost era. Although most of the outposts that were established are not likely to be removed in the near future, and some have even been retroactively approved by the government, the legal and political struggle stopped the outposts machine. Indeed, since Peace Now started the current legal struggle against the outposts in 2005 – culminating in the Migron evacuation – no new outposts have been established in the West Bank since that year. Likewise, the evacuation of Migron symbolizes the end of this private-land-theft era. Regrettably, Israeli law permits settlement construction on more than 50% of the West Bank – on land that has been designated State Land. On top of that, for years settlers grabbed additional lands, lands recognized by the government of Israel as privately owned by Palestinians. Until the campaign against the outposts, they did so with impunity. However, since 2005, when the legal struggle against the outposts began, construction on land recognized by the Israeli authorities as privately owned has almost completely stopped.
9. Migron means the era of official government duplicity on settlements is over.
Absent Peace Now’s efforts, the Netanyahu government would, like previous governments, have the luxury of blithely claiming they aren’t building new settlements, while they tacitly and actively allow settlers to do the dirty work of undermining the two-state solution. As a result of Peace Now’s work against outposts, the Netanyahu government must instead operate under the bright light of public scrutiny – scrutiny that forces it, at a minimum, to take responsibility for its reckless, anti-peace, pro-settlement policies.
10. The Migron evacuation stands as a warning – and a precedent.
The Migron case stands as a warning to settlers and the government that the Courts will not permit the legal laundering of all criminal acts by settlers. In doing so, it sets an important legal precedent in the fight against illegal settler construction, actual and potential – a precedent the settlers and the government fought desperately to avoid. More cases are in the legal pipeline and more will be launched, related to outposts, private land, and other issues. Peace Now has demonstrated that it will not be intimidated by threats and it will not give up in the face of Israeli government foot-dragging or game playing, but will continue the struggle against settlements, including in the courts, until there is peace.