Middle East Report Online on the political power of the fundamentalist Jewish settlers (as ever, the impotence of the Zionist Diaspora to condemn these fanatics is telling):
At first glance, it is hard to explain the success of the West Bank settlers. Numerically, excluding the 200,000 settlers in illegally annexed East Jerusalem, they constitute just 4 percent of Israel’s population, and are often resented by the rest for the disproportionate share of the national wealth they consume. A mere 1 percent live in the heartland of the putative Palestinian state, east of the separation barrier that Israel has built in the West Bank. Of these, thousands, most of them secular, have expressed interest in moving westward in return for financial incentives. Some — uncomfortable with geographic isolation, fears of violence and the mounting religiosity of the settler movement — have already left. Relocating the remainder seems a small price to pay for sparing Israel the worldwide opprobrium that comes with maintaining and advancing the settlement project.
Yet internally, the settler movement is — in the words of a former West Bank army commander — “Israel’s most powerful lobby.” Fearful of additional Amona-style faceoffs with Zionism’s foremost ideologues, few Israeli politicians dare confront the movement. It is growing fast: The drift of the secular-minded out of the West Bank (though not East Jerusalem) has been more than compensated for by the movement’s burgeoning hard core of national-religious activists, who from the outset have promoted Jewish settlement throughout the biblical Land of Israel as a sacred duty. In addition, the movement has coopted Israel’s ultra-Orthodox and traditionally non-Zionist communities, desperate for room for their large families. In so doing, the settlers have jettisoned the slowest-growing sector of Israeli society, secular Jews, and conjoined the two fastest to their project. The West Bank settler population, again excluding occupied East Jerusalem, has tripled from 105,000 on the eve of the Oslo agreement in 1992 to over 300,000 today.
The population expansion has given the settler movement an ever more religious hue. Ma’ale Ephraim, a settlement on the cliffs above the Jordan Valley whose secular population largely wants out, has opened a hesder yeshiva, a school combining religious study and army training. And in the valley below a national-religious community has entirely taken over Yitav, a once secular settlement. The caravan sites littering the West Bank are also markers of growing national-religious strength in the settlement enterprise and the readiness of the national-religious to put ideology before comfort. In the vicinity of Nokdim near Bethlehem, for example, 30 couples have pitched mobile homes on the hilltop, the latest influx turning a community that once had equal numbers of secular and pious families into a predominantly religious settlement. The Gush Etzion bloc of which Nokdim is a part has no secular school. Like others, it teaches that the Bible, as a local teacher puts it, is a God-given land registry.