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Borne mainly on rivers of blood and Palestinian terror, a grim spectacle unfolded at Rabin Square this week, ostensibly closing a tragic circle–"Shir Lashalom" ("Song of Peace") replaced by cries of "Israel demands war!" at the rally of settlers and their supporters. At Rabin Square, of all places, the settlers, of all people, came to […]

Israel’s Settler Warlords

by Doron Rosenblum

Borne mainly on rivers of blood and Palestinian terror, a grim spectacle unfolded at Rabin Square this week, ostensibly closing a tragic circle–"Shir Lashalom" ("Song of Peace") replaced by cries of "Israel demands war!" at the rally of settlers and their supporters. At Rabin Square, of all places, the settlers, of all people, came to dance on the grave of hope for peace and blow the shrill trumpet of war.

It’s true the Palestinians started this business. It’s true the settlers’ tidings were once again wrapped in an odd, carefully-packaged mixture of religious messianism masquerading as defense-ism, and anachronism masquerading as inert Zionism.

And yet the general message, and the closing of the circle, were unmistakable. The settlers for years have done whatever they could to obstruct territorial compromise, the settlers fought tooth and nail against all initiatives for peace or separation, the settlers waged an incitement campaign against the only prime minister who opposed them and was murdered by one of their supporters in this very square.

And these are the people now jubilantly sounding the bugle and calling the nation to war. They’re the ones who are pushing for escalation and rallying the "Jewish people" around them. They’re the ones, who after supplying some of the pretexts for war, and more than a few reasons to keep it going, have now taken it upon themselves to dictate its goals and dimensions.

But who says we need a demonstration in Rabin Square to figure out who our real military commanders and masters are? Not a day goes by without some settler getting up in front of a microphone and in his most autocratic tone of voice–a product of years of habit–outlining objectives and handing out orders to the army. "This flour mill stuck like a bone in our throats has got to be blown up!" decrees a settler lady from Gush Katif–whose own settlement is perceived as a bone in Gaza’s throat. "And on the double!" she adds, in military parlance.

Don’t think they’re satisfied with tactics. After ordering the IDF "to win" (mainly by recycling previous wars and shouting chants like "Go, Arik go!" and "Arik, recross the canal!"), and getting their way, however hollow the victories, the settlers are now mapping out general strategic objectives–"reoccupying the cities of our Lord," as they call it, and basically annexing the territories, again as part of a much broader agenda.

On the surface, the settlers have good reason to celebrate the failure of the Oslo process–that bold, noble-minded, creative initiative (yes, someone has to say it, even now) whose cardinal sin, it seems, was naivete. But what were they trying to say in this demonstration? That "war casualties," double and triple anything we’ve known, are better than "peace casualties"? And would they have accepted Oslo if it had succeeded?

The trouble is that as the violence mounts all over the country, and Palestinian terror is interpreted as a kind of free-form entity that operates without political rhyme or reason and recognizes no borders, the settlers delude themselves that they are celebrating the victory of their long-standing dream–a dream for which they have laid down their lives for years and now want us to lay down ours: the dream of erasing the Green Line.

But this borderline, which has been erased over and over in the course of decades of defiant "settlement," and looks as if it has now been erased again by terror, stubbornly reappears anew each time. It is the same borderline that lies at the end of all the rivers of blood and all the "outline plans" being drawn up, and it is more or less the same one that waited for us at the end of Oslo and awaits us at the end of the war the settlers themselves are calling for.

But the issue of geographic borders is only a symbol of the abysmal difference between Israeliness that yearns for normalcy and peace (or, alternately, secular self-definition within demarcated borders) and the "people-of-Israel" Israeliness of the settlers–transcendental, borderless, deliberately anomalous, contemptuous of the constraints of real-politik–the kind of Israeliness to which occupation has become not second-nature, but first-nature.

The truth is, this only looks like a dispute between hawks and doves over relations with the Palestinians. Actually, the settlers have their own special agenda–a nice, solid one that conflicts with the agenda of most Israeli citizens. Over the years, however, they have managed to hide its true essence behind a veil of defense concerns or nostalgic-Zionist inertia.

Only occasionally does the truth slip out, via an unplanned shout at a rally ("The people of Israel don’t want peace!") or the careless remark of a settler ("The real dispute is over the character of the state. We’ve never had any intention of being a nation like all others.

"Secular Zionism has got it all wrong. We’re going to build a Temple on the Temple Mount, and the mosque will be torn down," a settler told Ha’aretz correspondent Daniel Ben Simon in September 2001).

Not so much through their own planning, but by virtue of the spiritual decline and emptiness of the secular Zionist movements since the Six-Day War, the settlers have commandeered the national agenda, sabotaging normalization efforts for 30 years and now openly embracing the greatest of anomalies–kindling and escalating war.

Yes, it’s Arafat’s fault. Yes, it’s the Palestinians’ fault. But only one Israeli leader, Yitzhak Rabin, found the courage to stand up to the deeper, more tenacious form of occupation–not our conquest of territories but the conquest of the Israeli agenda by the settlers. But look where he is. And look where they are.

Doron Rosenblum writes for the Israeli daily Ha’aretz.