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September 12, 2005 - Vol. 7, Issue 7

According to Friday's Dahaf/Yedioth Ahronoth survey of Israeli public opinion, given a choice between Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Uzi Landau in a Likud primary contest, 24% of registered Likud members would vote for Landau, 29% for Netanyahu, 31% for Sharon, and 16% undecided.

As The World Turns: According to Friday's Dahaf/Yedioth Ahronoth survey of Israeli public opinion, given a choice between Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Uzi Landau in a Likud primary contest, 24% of registered Likud members would vote for Landau, 29% for Netanyahu, 31% for Sharon, and 16% undecided. In a race between just Sharon and Bibi, Sharon gets 38%, Netanyahu 47%, and undecided 15%. If it's just between Netanyahu and Landau, Bibi wins 41%, Landau 39%, and undecided 20%. On the question of whether Likud primaries or elections for party leader should be moved up, 46% of Likud Central Committee members said yes, 49% said no, and 5% had no response. (Last week, 57% said yes, and 39% said no.) Among the general public, if Sharon headed a centrist party and elections were held today, here's how the 120 seats of the Knesset would be divided: Yisrael Beiteinu 3; National Union 4; National Religious Party (NRP) 5; United Torah Judaism (UTJ) 6; Meretz-Yahad 7; Arab parties 9; Shas 9; Shinui 13; Labor 18; Likud-Netanyahu 19; and Sharon's party 27, giving the Left and Center bloc a 74 seat majority and leaving the Right with 46 seats. If Sharon should lead the Likud, the seats would be divided as follows: Yisrael Beiteinu 5; National Union 5; NRP 6; UTJ 6; Meretz-Yahad 7; Arab parties 9; Shas 11; Shinui 11; Labor 19; and Likud 41, giving the Right a majority of 74 seats and the Left and Center bloc 46. And if Bibi should lead the Likud, here's how it would go: Yisrael Beiteinu 5; National Union 5; NRP 6; UTJ 6; Meretz-Yahad 7; Arab parties 9; Shas 10; Shinui 14; Labor 27; and Likud 31, leaving the Right at 63 seats and the Left and Center bloc at 57. Among Labor voters, 11% said they would support a Sharon party if Likud splits up. (Yedioth Ahronoth, 9/9/05)

Stray Katz Strut: Six months have passed since the report on illegal settlement outposts was published in a blaze of publicity, but it is hard to find any sign that its recommendations are being implemented. Construction continues unabated, the settlers are being reinforced, and Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz wants "to strengthen our grip on the land." Katz wishes to seize control of 15,000 dunams in the southern Hebron hills, near the Lucifer Farm settlement outpost. Last week he visited the area and ordered that thousands of dunams be fenced in as pasture for two flocks, each with 250-300 sheep and goats. The land is defined as state-owned by the Jewish Agency Settlement Division, but it lies close to one of the settlement outposts defined as illegal in the government report submitted by Talia Sasson. It was only a few months ago that the Israeli government decided to leave this area outside the separation fence, but Katz is now creating facts on the ground and intends to create a situation in which the area is surrounded by agricultural fences instead of the security fence which is located close to the Green Line.

"This is an area of the Land with magnificent Jewish agricultural settlement," Katz said, "and in the vicinity there are large tracts of state land which are empty. The Ministry of Agriculture, with me at its head, will help the settlers to strengthen their hold upon the land. The government's decision to leave this area outside the security fence was a mistake. It is an area with no Arab inhabitants and it is very important that the Israeli settlements there should be protected by the security fence." This is not the first time that Katz has established farms with the aim of keeping land. In the past he used a similar method in the Jordan Valley, when he helped with the establishment of the Becker Farm, in order to prevent Palestinians from taking over territory.

Meanwhile, at a time when the security establishment was preoccupied with disengagement, the settlers expedited construction in the illegal settlements in the West Bank. About 130 new housing units have been built in them recently, most of them permanent homes. The most significant expansion is at the outpost of Bruchin, west of Ariel, where roughly 40 new homes have been built. The Israeli Peace Now movement found that the number of settlers living in the illegal outposts has increased by several hundred, and it is now approaching 1,000 families. (Ma'ariv, 9/7/05)

IDF Vs. Toddler Throttlers: At noon, after the bell rings in the school in Khirbat Atwana near the West Bank settlement of Maon in the southern Hebron hills, ten Palestinian urchins make their way past the school gate and begin to march in the direction of a military jeep that is waiting for them. Not far away, an IDF soldier doing lookout duty on the road sees them and gives the word to his company commander, "They're on their way in your direction." The ten children, pupils in the first through fourth grade, live in Khirbat Umm Tuba, near Maon. They make their way to the road twice daily, once from home to school and then back home from school. Each time they are escorted by a military jeep, an officer, and a contingent of soldiers and police officers. Why? Without this escort, they would be unable to make their way down the 800-meter dirt road that connects their home to their school. Were it not for the "bodyguards," the young pupils would suffer at the hands of their neighbors, the settlers from Maon.

The Maon settlers refuse to allow their Palestinian neighbors to use the dirt road that runs near the settlement, not even the first graders among them. The only way the children are able to exercise their right to go to school is if they receive the protection of the Israel Police and the IDF. When the children reach the twisty part of the road that runs right behind the settlers' homes they decide not to take their chances and break into a run. Eight-year-old Tarek explains, "When the army is here with us there's nothing for us to be afraid of. But without the soldiers it's frightening, because the settlers beat us up." "This isn't a standard task-it's an ethical-moral task whose purpose is to allow the Palestinian schoolchildren to get to school every day and back home," explained Dep. Cmdr. Ali Zamir, the commander of the Hebron police station. "We view with gravity the behavior of a small handful of settlers who do not represent the majority, who harass helpless Palestinian schoolchildren." Zamir said that the task of protecting the children came at the expense of other tasks. (Yedioth Ahronoth, 9/8/05)

Settler Rabbis Under Scrutiny: Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz said last week that the arrangement with the yeshivas whose principals called for military disobedience during disengagement will be nullified unless those rabbis are relieved of their duties. Director of Human Resources Branch Maj. Gen. Elazar Stern agreed, saying, "We'll take care of them." Leading figures in the Hesder Yeshiva Association said that the rabbis referred to by the IDF officials are Rabbis Elyakim Levanon and Dov Lior. Rabbi Levanon is the principal of the hesder yeshiva in Elon Moreh and also serves as the settlement rabbi. The yeshiva in Elon Moreh took the lead among all the hesder yeshivas in terms of military disobedience. Rabbi Levanon advised his pupils "to begin to cry and to say that they are incapable" of executing the orders to evacuate. He also said, "There is no Halachic [Jewish legal] difference between desecrating the Sabbath and evacuating Jews from their homes." Two groups of pupils from the yeshiva disobeyed evacuation orders in Gush Katif and were sentenced to extended prison terms.

Rabbi Dov Lior is the principal of the Nir Yeshiva in the settlement of Kiryat Arba and serves as the settlement rabbi. Three months before disengagement, the yeshiva was relocated to Sa-Nur in the northern West Bank, but it has since moved back to Kiryat Arba. Right-wing figures also cited Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, the principal of the hesder yeshiva on Har Bracha in the West Bank, as someone who had been marked for dismissal. He said that disobeying orders could be a positive phenomenon and that it would be best for soldiers to be prepared to "clash with the establishment to safeguard Halacha in all areas." Knesset Member Ran Cohen told Maj. Gen. Stern at a Knesset hearing on the subject, "The hesder yeshivas need to be disbanded. It is inconceivable that a soldier in the IDF should have two sources of authority-a commander and a rabbi." (Yedioth Ahronoth, 9/8/05)

Westward, Ho! In the most recent Peace Index survey of Israeli public opinion conducted by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, a plurality of Israelis supports further settlement evacuation from the West Bank. The survey was taken shortly after the pullout of the Gaza settlements, with the difficult images of the evacuation, not yet forgotten, helping to strengthen the emotional component of the views. But even under these circumstances, 71.5% of the Jewish public thinks the unilateral disengagement from Gaza is not the end of the story, but only a first step toward an extensive evacuation of Jewish settlements from the West Bank in the context of a final agreement with the Palestinian Authority. When asked for their position on an extensive evacuation of West Bank settlements, a plurality of 47.8% said they favored it (34.3% replying that they would support it only in the framework of a peace agreement with the Palestinians and 13.5% that they would favor it even in a unilateral framework), while 41.8% said they would not support a far-reaching evacuation of the West Bank under any conditions. Compared to responses from a similar poll taken in April, these results reflect a 50% drop of support for unilateral action, but an increase of those who favor evacuation in the context of an agreement or don't like the idea at all.

Not all West Bank settlers would necessarily oppose leaving some time soon. Matthew Gutman reports in the Jerusalem Post that 66 of 83 settler families in the south Hebron hills settlement of Teneh Omarim signed a petition last month demanding evacuation and compensation from the government. "With the evacuation part of the Sharon disengagement having gone more smoothly than anyone expected and additional settlements headed for the chopping block," he wrote, "settlers in various communities marooned on the Palestinian side of the security barrier have begun to clamor for a way out. Settlers not only from the West Bank's southern rim but also those in the north, and in major towns like Karnei Shomron that may not be included inside the fence, have said they would leave if equitably compensated. Some 30% of the 80,000 settlers living on the `Palestinian side' of the security barrier would move if compensated, according to a recent poll conducted by One Home, a nonprofit organization that aims to help settlers move to Israel proper." (August Peace Index Survey, 9/7/05 & Jerusalem Post, 9/9/05)

Accessories To Settler Crime: The legal advisor of the city of Jerusalem has told the Israel Police and the Housing Ministry that police and the ministry became "accessories to a crime" when they helped settlers from the Ateret Cohanim nonprofit organization take possession of an illegally constructed building in East Jerusalem and paid for its protection. Ha'aretz reported in April that a Palestinian named Mohammed Maragha had built a seven-story building in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem on behalf of Ateret Cohanim, which had also purchased the land rights from him. The building was constructed without any permit from the Jerusalem municipality, and the city inspectors failed to identify construction at the site, even though it went on for more than a year. Despite this, police secured the entry of Ateret Cohanim people into the building in April 2004, and evicted members of Maragha's family who were living there at the time. Since then, the settlers have been living there under the protection of a private security firm that is paid by the Housing Ministry. The building still lacks a permit and does not pay Jerusalem municipal taxes. The letter from attorney Yossi Havilo to the Housing Ministry and police says that at issue is a building code violation "of the utmost severity," and that an indictment will be filed shortly.

The Housing Ministry spends approximately NIS 32 million a year on private security firms providing protection for settlers in East Jerusalem. City Council member Yosef Papa Alalu said that Havilio's letter demonstrates, "You cannot give criminals government and police support. Protection must be given to the residents, not to people who come to the eastern part of the city to wreak havoc." Alalu also said that the mayor of Jerusalem has a stricter demolition policy when it comes to Arabs living in East Jerusalem. During the first half of 2005, the mayor declined to sign 4% of demolition order issues for East Jerusalem, compared to 37% of those in the western part of the city. Execution of demolition orders requires the mayor's signature. (Ha'aretz, 9/7/05)

Third Party Monitoring Approved: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreed to third party monitoring at the Rafah border crossing, becoming the first Israeli leader to agree to international supervision on the country's borders-a move with wide-ranging ramifications for future border arrangements. Last week, he accepted an Egyptian compromise solution for the Rafah crossing. Under the plan, the Rafah crossing terminal will be closed for six months. During this period, all Palestinians will pass from Gaza to Egypt through a new terminal to be built at Kerem Shalom, on the Gaza-Israel-Egypt border. That border crossing will be manned by officials from all three sides. Meanwhile, the Rafah terminal will be upgraded, with the introduction of cameras and surveillance equipment. In addition, procedures for a third party monitoring system will be developed and put into place. Britain is expected to be that third party. At the end of the six month period, goods will continue to go in and out of Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, but people will move back and forth through Rafah, which is to have the third party monitoring it, and which will be equipped with surveillance equipment so that Israel can monitor from a distance who is coming and going.

However, the Palestinians refuse to allow Israel to supervise Rafah from a distance, meaning that after the full withdrawal Palestinians would be able to operate the crossing as they wish, without Israel knowing who enters or leaves or what they are bringing into the area. "Sharon's acceptance of this compromise is extremely significant," said one source close to the negotiations. "He has accepted in principle the idea of third party monitoring on the external borders. It is now possible to imagine similar arrangements being worked out for Gaza's airport and seaport." The EU is expected to play a role as a third party monitoring the transfer of goods at the Kerem Shalom terminal after the Rafah crossing is re-opened. (Jerusalem Post, 9/7/05 & Yedioth Ahronoth, 9/9/05)

Looser Reins On Northern West Bank: Israel is to transfer responsibility for most of the area it evacuated in the northern West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, according to an IDF source, who said that the IDF would enter the area only if intelligence information indicated a terror attack was being planned there. The area where the four evacuated settlements used to sit is considered Area C, in full Israeli control, reportedly in order to keep it as a bargaining chip in future negotiations over the West Bank. Though the territory in question will remain formally designated as Area C, it will in practice be related to as Area A, territory under full Palestinian civil and security control. According to government and defense sources, because Israel does not want to maintain a presence in the evacuated area, it has told the Palestinians during talks between officers that it intends to give them most of the responsibility for the region. The IDF will reportedly not enforce the ban against unauthorized Palestinian construction, if it does not take place close to the separation fence or roads. (Ha'aretz, 9/7/05)

Gangstas In Gaza: In a lead editorial commenting about the lawlessness that has been left unchecked in Gaza, the Beirut Daily Star said, "The killing of former Palestinian security chief Moussa Arafat is yet another example of the deadly lawlessness that has taken hold in the Gaza Strip. In recent months, Palestinian and international human rights groups, lawyers, judges, and activists have been sounding the alarm about the climate of chaos and warning that it threatens to undermine all prospects for peace, security, and statehood. They warned that even as Israel was preparing for its historic pullout from the occupied territory, militants were stepping up their campaign of violence. The streets of Gaza have been the scene of increased abductions and deadly clashes between militants and security forces. Amid this rash of infighting and violence, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been either unwilling or unable to impose order. Members of armed groups-even those whose identity is well known-have rarely been held accountable for their crimes. In the past three months, as the violence has steadily increased, the climate of lawlessness has spared no one. Local and international aid and relief agencies that are working to improve the lives of Palestinians have come under attack: Militants have attacked or abducted staff members of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations Development Program, and the UN Relief and Works Agency.

"Civilians have also been caught in the crossfire: In July, at least five bystanders, including four children, were killed as a result of armed clashes between PA security forces and militants. Even the judiciary has not been spared from the deadly violence: Militants have used their guns to intimidate judges and have even bombed the homes of the attorney general and the head of the High Judicial Council. In June, dozens of Palestinian lawyers and judges went on strike to protest against the climate of lawlessness and denounced the failure of the PA to crack down on vigilantism and chaos. Militants, they said, were acting with impunity and taking the law into their own hands. Judges and lawyers were being subjected to threats and blackmail as militants used brutal force to influence investigations or protest against court rulings. Armed men have repeatedly stormed courthouses and judges' chambers to win court verdicts through intimidation.

"After the killing of Arafat, a spokesman for the responsible group said, `We have implemented God's law.' But it is the law of the gun-not the law of God-that is now governing Gaza. And it is the PA, which ought to be governing Gaza, that is ultimately responsible for the climate of lawlessness. It is true that President Mahmoud Abbas is under enormous pressure to cope with the chaos with a limited set of tools. During decades of occupation, Israel broke down Palestinian security agencies and imposed the horrendous living conditions that gave rise to widespread angst and militancy. But while these factors help explain the origins of the lawlessness, they in no way excuse it, especially when it is Palestinian livelihoods and families that are suffering as a result. Abbas has said that within three weeks, he will bring Fatah fighters under the control of his security forces. Frankly, he has no other choice. The climate of impunity must be replaced with a climate of accountability in which everyone-including members of the security forces-is held accountable for their crimes. Failure to do so risks allowing the lawlessness to destroy every hope for prosperous and independent Palestinian state." (Daily Star, 9/8/05)