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January 17, 2005 - Vol. 6, Issue 24

IT WORKED SO WELL THE FIRST TIME: A lead editorial in Ha'aretz commented about the Sharon government's return to a confrontational relationship with the Palestinian Authority, saying, "Ariel Sharon's display of anger at Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) after the suicide bombing at the Karni crossing shows that Israel has chosen to return to the relationship ...

IT WORKED SO WELL THE FIRST TIME: A lead editorial in Ha'aretz commented about the Sharon government's return to a confrontational relationship with the Palestinian Authority, saying, "Ariel Sharon's display of anger at Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) after the suicide bombing at the Karni crossing shows that Israel has chosen to return to the relationship model that was unsuccessfully tried with Yasser Arafat, instead of taking a different path. If there is no sign that Abu Mazen is encouraging terror, if he means what he says, if he did not know about the attack planned a long time before it was carried out, it may be expected that the government of Israel will give him time and support so that he can work toward a total cease-fire. Demanding that he control Hamas and the other organizations one week after his election, even before being sworn in, by waging all-out war instead of reaching an agreement among the various Palestinian factions, abrogates from the outset Abu Mazen's chance of succeeding in his chosen path. That does not mean Israel must come to terms for any length of time with the firing of Qassam rockets and mortars and with suicide attacks that take the lives of its citizens and soldiers. The attack at the Karni crossing showed once again that the victims of violence on both sides are almost always unfortunate hostages, people with no connection to terror, who were only trying to make a living that requires them to work in a dangerous place. Israel will gain nothing from a Palestinian civil war-and will certainly gain nothing from the failure of Abu Mazen, whom everyone believes harbors new hope for the entire region. The statements against Abu Mazen began Friday from sources around the prime minister. There were telephone calls to world leaders to boycott Abu Mazen, in the old-new tone of confrontation and defiance that never helped put out fires in the past, and is not expected to do so this time, either. Abu Mazen has to understand that time is short, and that much of what will happen in the near future between the Israelis and the Palestinians, including Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, depends on him and his determination. At his inauguration, the new chairman condemned terror and called for an end to the cycle of violence. Sharon cannot make do with declarations and good intentions. It is precisely at this critical moment that the prime minister should meet with Abu Mazen and try to create a joint plan of action instead of rolling down the slippery slope to another round of bloodshed. (Ha'aretz, 1/16/05)

INTERIOR MINISTER AGREES WITH PEACE NOW TO TARGET SETTLER CAMPAIGN: The new Israeli Interior Minister, Ophir Pines, took office last week and immediately began working to eliminate state funding for the settlers' campaign against the disengagement plan. During the last year, the Settlers Council has conducted a campaign estimated to cost around $7 million, including expenses for huge demonstrations, purchasing billboard ads, and printing millions of flyers, stickers, booklets, and shirts. However, a large part of the money contributed to the struggle comes from the coffers of the West Bank local authorities, and associates of Pines said that the incoming minister plans to put an end to this. Pines' action comes in the wake of a High Court of Justice petition presented by Peace Now director general Yariv Oppenheimer, who claims that the local authorities are not allowed to use their funds for political activism. The Interior Ministry responded to the court, via the State Attorney's Office, that it accepts the principles of the arguments in the Peace Now petition. The Interior Ministry even asked every local authority in the occupied territories to account for all the funds transferred to the political campaign. Today the settlers are concentrating on protest tents set up in front of the Knesset. Eyal Arad, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's strategic adviser and an expert in political campaigns, said, "It costs $50,000 daily to maintain the tent city. I believe that all the organizational and logistical activity by the Settlers Council campaign up to today has cost between $5 million and $10 million." It is also believed that local authorities contributed council equipment to the battle, which is tantamount to money. (Ma'ariv, 1/12/05)

MODERATES NEED NOT APPLY: Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, longtime spokesman for the Settlers Council, resigned Sunday over a rift between him and the council. Mor-Yosef, said to be one of the more moderate voices inside the council, reportedly threatened to resign over recent calls by settler leaders and rabbis to escalate the struggle against the disengagement plan. Recently offered the position of Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom's spokesman, Mor-Yosef was quoted last week as saying that Israel should withdraw to pre-1967 borders in order to achieve peace with the Palestinians. "His remarks are words of heresy," said Settlers Council member Elyakim Ha'etzni. "If they are true, then there is no place for him within us." One recent example of the difference of opinion within the council was over TV coverage of clashes between settlers and IDF troops at the evacuation of an illegal outpost near Yitzhar. Settlers were filmed bombarding security forces with rocks, pouring oil on roads, and calling soldiers "Nazis." Mor-Yosef argued that the footage harmed the settlers' cause, while other members of the council disagreed. (Jerusalem Post, 1/12 & 16/05)

STRONG ISRAELI SUPPORT FOR DISENGAGEMENT CONTINUES: Two public opinion polls released on Friday show continued strong Israeli support for disengagement. A Ma'ariv survey found that 60% of Israelis back the settlement evacuation plan, and that 69% of them believe that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will ultimately succeed in removing the settlements from Gaza and the northern West Bank. When asked if Israel should help Abu Mazen establish his position through gestures, such as lifting restrictions at roadblocks and releasing security prisoners, a majority approved. However, only 17% approved unconditionally, while 59% said they wanted to see him take action to prevent terror first. Just 23% opposed such gestures at all. In a separate Dialogue/Ha'aretz poll, 59% of respondents said they support both disengagement and the new Israeli government. But in this survey, just 45% said they think Gaza will be evacuated, while the rest didn't believe it will be or aren't sure. Just 38% said they want a referendum before disengagement, while an equal percentage said the evacuation preparations should continue. If new elections were held today, Shinui would lose four of its 15 seats in the Knesset, Yahad would go from six seats to eight, Likud would lose three of its 40 seats, and Labor would remain steady at 19 seats. (Ma'ariv & Ha'aretz, 1/14/05)

GIRDING FOR BATTLE: "A display of force and power," is the police and IDF description of the doctrine behind the proposal to evacuate Gaza and the northern West Bank, now in its final planning stages. The headquarters for evacuation will be responsible for four brigades. The police force will include 2,500 troops: seven regular Border Police companies, the Ramon Border Police Brigade, police patrol and cadet units, uniformed police from the patrol, security and immigration administration sections, SWAT teams, a helicopter unit, and negotiations teams. The array of forces will be two evacuation brigades, divided into three battalions each, with each battalion made up of Border Police, patrol troops, documentation teams with still and video cameras to gather evidence, and armed security teams, as well as snipers. Behind the evacuation battalions will be an auxiliary battalion, with medical and paramedic teams, buses with bars on the windows for detainees, trucks to collect property, cranes, and D-9 bulldozers. A police and Border equipment and document brigade, tow trucks, and vehicles for the detainees will be on alert, and nearby will be an auxiliary brigade including negotiation teams, police control teams, heavy equipment including small bulldozers, jackhammers to smash walls, and fire brigade vehicles. Training for the forces will include dealing with rioters, breaking and entering means, using engineering equipment, and dealing with violent scenarios in front of reporters covering the situation. A month before the evacuation, entry to Gaza will be blocked entirely to Jews, except settlers who live in Gaza, in order to prevent a flow of settlers from all over the country and the West Bank into Gush Katif to reinforce the settlers there. At the end of the operation, according to one proposal under consideration, after the evacuation of settlers from houses and the demolition of those buildings, the remnants of the homes will be buried in the sand with the aid of huge bulldozers. Further, the security establishment has prepared a "package of steps" to deal with settlers who clash with IDF forces and police. The package includes massive police reinforcements in the occupied territories, financial lawsuits against settlers who deliberately damage IDF equipment and vehicles, and accelerated legislation for imposing lengthy prison sentences. (Ma'ariv, 1/12/05)

HERE TODAY, HERE TOMORROW: The IDF is planning to maintain a mobile presence in the area of four settlements to be evacuated from the northern West Bank. The disengagement plan calls for the evacuation of the settlements of Ganim, Kadim, Sa-Nur, and Homesh, as well as the Mevo Dotan army base near Jenin and IDF posts near the four settlements. The cabinet's decision on the disengagement plan states that Israel will withdraw from "the area of the northern West Bank and from all permanent military facilities in the area, and will redeploy outside the evacuated area." The decision notes that there will be no permanent IDF presence in the area, but that Israel reserves the right to conduct preventive and reactive operations if terror attacks emanate from evacuated areas. Although the decision states the Palestinians will have territorial contiguity in this area, the IDF takes it to mean that mobile military operations will be possible even after the pullout, although the extent of such operations is not clear. (Ha'aretz, 1/12/05)

TUNNEL VISION: The security establishment is nearing implementation of a plan to dig a security trench along Philadelphi Road with the goal of preventing tunnels from being dug beneath it. The Defense Ministry published a tender for digging the trench, which specifies the dimensions of the trench that the IDF wants: four kilometers long and over ten meters deep. It will be dug in the shape of an inverted triangle whose base, the opening at the top, will be a few dozen meters wide. The IDF is expected to install inside the trench instruments that will help locate tunnels. The sand that will be removed from the trench will be used to build defensive embankments on either side of the barrier. In addition, the IDF has submitted a plan for the attorney general's approval to demolish up to 3,000 Palestinian houses in order to dig the trench. The plan would include controlled explosions, along with a trench linking a number of drainage pools that would occasionally be flooded in order to destroy Palestinian tunnels. The flooding concept was found to be effective in trials carried out in an area next to Gaza. The water used to flood the tunnels will not be saline, in order to avoid harming the underground water table. The trench is planned to extend to houses in southern Rafah, and would necessitate demolishing many Palestinian houses. The wider and deeper the trench, the more houses will need to be destroyed. The security establishment has presented the attorney general with three options for digging the trench. The plan for the widest trench means destroying 3,000 Palestinian homes, but the security establishment believes that even though this plan is best, the chances of getting legal approval are very low. The IDF therefore has two alternatives that would do less damage to Palestinians. The middle plan calls for destroying 700 houses, and the small plan would mean demolishing 200 houses. The military argues that the demolition of houses belonging to innocent civilians can be justified in international law so as to prevent terror attacks and arms smuggling, on condition that for every house demolished, the owners receive fair monetary compensation. The cost of this plan is expected to come to tens of millions of shekels. (Yedioth Ahronoth, 1/9/05 & Ma'ariv, 1/11/05)

BLUE & WHITE BACKLASH: A group of religious IDF officers, hesder soldiers, and settlers initiated a campaign to counter petitions calling on soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate settlements. So far, 700 people have signed the new petitions, and there are plans to distribute them in synagogues throughout the country. The counter-petition has also been circulated at Bar-Ilan University and Ben-Gurion University. The document says, "We, the sons of religious Zionism, are committed to the Torah and loyal to the state; we cannot disobey the orders of the Knesset of Israel and its elected institutions, and we cannot ignore our brothers in trouble. We call on the entire public, religious and secular, rightists and leftists, to push for a dialogue among brothers and prevent a civil war. Whether we are opposed to the disengagement or in favor of it, we have to agree to the rules of the game-no to refusal in the framework of the army and the security forces, no to violence and threats against life, and yes to a citizen's legal option to demonstrate in favor of his position." Another initiative was launched by officers in the naval commando and Sayeret Matkal units, which sent a letter to Chief of Staff Yaalon, saying, "We, the undersigned, feel it our duty to stand clearly against the stream of inciters and dissenters and offer our services to the IDF should it deem this necessary, to carry out the disengagement plan." The anti-disobedience movement, Red Line, was recently founded and is gathering volunteers to carry out the disengagement plan in place of dissenters, following the lead of a Peace Now initiative several weeks ago. The first list of names of volunteers in the movement has already been sent to Yaalon. Adding his own two cents about the right-wing refusal campaign, Northern Command Maj. Gen. Benny Ganz warned last week that the wave of threats from pro-settlement elements to refuse to obey army orders to evacuate settlements "is more dangerous than any flying rocket. Some of us are not diligent about accepting the authority of the government of Israel regarding military activities." While Ganz said he is bothered by Hezbollah rockets, "I am much more bothered by our internal social-national resilience. We have to make extra sure that there is no authority in Israel other than the government, regarding military activity. All the verbal acrobatics meant to explain things is unacceptable to me." (Ha'aretz, 1/12-13/05 & Ma'ariv, 1/9/05)

SCIENCE FICTION: A revisionist study of Palestinian demographics, meant to undermine arguments for the disengagement plan, was rolled out for several groups last week, including the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The study claims that there are far fewer Palestinians in the occupied territories than generally assumed. In sharp contrast to population studies conducted in Israel by Professors Arnon Sofer and Sergio della Pergola, the document asserts that Jews continue to maintain a solid 60% majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Not surprisingly, the people involved with the new study are clearly identified with the right-wing. Della Pergola called the document "groundless," politically slanted, and baseless from a research perspective. None of the signatories to the document is a professional in demographic research. Among its authors are a former Israeli consul in Texas known for his hawkish views, a former West Bank Civil Administration head, and a former Israeli health official. Works by Sofer and della Pergola, based largely on data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, find that the Jewish population in Israel and the occupied territories is about 50%. Della Pergola deducted the populations of East Jerusalem and found there were 3.53 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza at the start of 2004. Sofer estimates Jews will be a minority of 40% in 2020, while della Pergola maintains the figure will be 46.7% (including foreign workers and non-Jews). But della Pergola rejects the new right-wing study entirely. He refers to a figure that has no basis in the Israeli population registry, a claim in the document that 300,000 Palestinians have become Israeli citizens since 1967, noting the lack of segmentation of the statistics according to age, "critical in any Israeli-Palestinian demographic study." He said, "The authors seek to prove the political theory that the status quo is good for us and time is on our side. They are trying to attach some demographic claims to that thesis." The demographer said there are distorted figures in the new document, in addition to a lack of familiarity with professional literature and accepted research methods. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, said he was "enormously skeptical" about the study's findings. He added that even if the findings were accurate, it would not eliminate the need to deal with the problems created by Israel having to maintain control over a large Arab minority. For his part, Sofer said, "Aside from all the bombastic words about professors and heritage and Washington and institutes, and the like, there is nothing there.We're in trouble. We have a tiny minority in Gaza, and a small minority in Judea and Samaria, and problems in the Negev and Galilee, and we can't ignore it." (Forward, 1/14/05; Ha'aretz, 1/10/05; & Arutz-7, 1/12/05)

SETTLER POPULATION RISES: The number of settlers living in the West Bank and Gaza rose 6% in 2004, according to figures from the Israeli Interior Ministry's Population Registry. In 2004, 250,179 settlers lived in the occupied territories, compared to 236,381 in 2003-an increase of 13,798. In Gaza alone, there was an 11% increase in the number of settlers, from 7,820 to 8,693. The chief growth in the number of Gush Katif settlers occurred in the second half of 2004, after the disengagement plan was first announced. The four settlements in the West Bank slated for evacuated also experienced growth last year, with the number of settlers in Sa-Nur actually tripling. Among some of the larger West Bank settlements, the ultra-Orthodox community of Modi'in Ilit grew 14% and Maale Adumim grew 6%, while Ariel experienced no growth at all. (Ha'aretz, 1/10/05)

SOUTH OF SHEBBA FARMS: Senior Israeli defense officials monitoring Hezbollah activity say that the organization runs a conveyor-belt operation in the West Bank and Gaza. Its goal is to create as many small terrorist cells as possible, and it is happy with even the smallest attacks. It's the "launch and forget" method. If a network's efforts don't work, Hezbollah moves on to another network. Hezbollah is not even providing specific tactical instructions to its Palestinian operatives. It makes do with general instructions. Palestinians, despite the temptation of the high pay offered by the Lebanese group, are well aware of the ramifications of the system. A Fatah activist who was arrested by the Shin Bet said that he regarded his contact with Hezbollah as deadly-a short-lived, fatal framework that would lead him to doom. Hezbollah, he said, pushed people to ever more operations, even at the cost of their lives. And the chances of getting out of the "contract" safely are nil. In 2002, the Shin Bet identified seven Palestinian groups operated by Hezbollah, a new number that grew to 14 in 2003 and rose to 51 last year. Most of Hezbollah's affiliated cells were related to Fatah-38, mostly in the West Bank. Six cells were associated with Islamic Jihad, three with Hamas, and at least four with the Popular Front. Hezbollah's takeover of the armed Fatah cells in the West Bank is nearly absolute, with nearly every Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade unit on its payroll. Last year, 68 attacks were initiated by Hezbollah, some 20% of the attacks across the Green Line. Twenty-four Israelis were killed in these attacks. Hezbollah sent an estimated $9 million into the occupied territories last year out of an overall budget of $100 million, most of which came from Iran. Hezbollah has a reputation for abandoning its wounded in the field, in many cases promising financial help to families if attackers are killed or arrested, but failing to follow through on its commitments. It is said to have targeted, under instructions from Iran, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, even to harm him physically, to prevent any accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians. (Ha'aretz, 1/11/05)

MISSILE MACHINATIONS, PART I: Analyzing the missile crisis between Israel and Russia, Ben Caspit wrote, "The weapons deal between Russia and Syria includes two kinds of missiles: the Iskandar, a large, precise and sophisticated surface-to-surface missile that covers all the territory of Israel (including Dimona). The major portion of the deal, from a financial perspective, is dedicated to the procurement of such missiles. The Syrians will also receive, in an almost negligible manner, SA-18 missiles-small shoulder missiles of insignificant cost but major importance. This is the missile that has created the current crisis between Israel and Russia. This is a dangerous missile that could change the strategic balance. This is the missile that Ariel Sharon wants to stay in the warehouses of the Russian military. The Iskandar? Small change. 'We know how to deal with the Syrian army,' IDF personnel say. 'They have missiles, they had missiles, and they will have missiles. The balance of threat between ourselves and them is clear and decisive, and at this stage they do not concern us.'" (Ma'ariv, 1/13/05)

MISSILE MACHINATIONS, PART II: Ben Caspit continued, "So what does concern us? Hassan Nasrallah. Anyone who has been listening to the rich rhetoric of the Hezbollah chief in recent months can spot obvious hints that Hezbollah is searching diligently for creative solutions to Israel's air superiority. It started with the toy drone that flew quietly in northern airspace, and could continue with shoulder missiles reminiscent of the missiles that defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan. Israel's fear is that these missiles will stream, as if naturally, from Damascus to Beirut. Here, in the hands of Hezbollah zealots, they could take the Air Force's freedom of action from under its own wings. It is impossible to keep track of missiles. They arrive and disappear, and when they show themselves again it is already too late, a second or two before they hit. Now they are putting pressure. The Americans and others have contacted the Russians and asked them to reconsider. Bashar Assad is due to arrive in Moscow on the 24th of the month (a report that Israel's military censor rejected [last week] for some reason) and sign the agreement. The one who does not want Assad at the negotiating table and thinks that the Syrian president is going to keep begging and giving in every time the Air Force buzzes him in his palace in the middle of the night now finds himself in battle stance. The Syrians are poor, besieged, and desperate, but they are not suckers. If the deal really goes through in the end, the IDF will have to rethink fundamental assumptions that no longer apply. It is already impossible to fly freely over the Gaza Strip, and soon it will be impossible to fly freely over Lebanon, Syria, the northern border. Army intelligence will have to work hard in order to spot the tiny missiles being removed from their vehicles (the Russians will sell the Syrians the motorized version), turning into their miniature version, and somehow getting into Nasrallah's hands. And then, anything is possible. It looks like we will learn to live with that, too. The main thing is that we do not surrender to Assad's peace maneuvers and negotiation spins." (Ma'ariv, 1/13/05)

GOOD MORNING, RAMALLAH: It's taken over a year of hard work and ingenuity to overcome obstacles meant to block their progress, but the Israeli and Palestinian founders of a new pro-peace radio station, Voice of Peace, have finally gotten their broadcasts on the air. Voice of Peace was established as a joint initiative by the Palestinian organization Biladi, The Jerusalem Times newspaper, and the Israeli group Givat Haviva to transmit original programs about tolerance and co-existence in Arabic, Hebrew, and English throughout Israel and the Palestinian Authority. But the Israeli government tried to keep the station silent by refusing to release its radio transmitter from a warehouse at Ben Gurion International Airport. Voice of Peace initially worked around this problem by broadcasting its programming on the internet at www.allforpeace.org. And while it succeeded in picking up a daily audience of about 7,000 listeners, the station's organizers knew they weren't reaching as many people as they should be. So they recently purchased a used transmitter in the West Bank and have finally taken to the airwaves. Now listeners in central Israel, most of the West Bank, and a bit of Gaza can tune in to hear music along with informational programs that emphasize exposing various aspects of each side to the other, shattering stereotypes, and discussing common interests in areas like health, culture, and the economy. Although the station's organizers are happy to be on the air, the internet broadcasts will continue. "The internet has provided many benefits to the station," said Mossi Raz, deputy general director of Givat Haviva. "It lets us know how many listeners we have, where they come from, and which programs they like. For instance, we know that 52% of our audience is Israeli, 35% is Palestinian, and the rest comes from North America and Europe. And while we originally thought that our music would attract listeners for our other programs, the exact opposite is true. People tune in for our interview and news shows, then stay for the music." (Middle East Peace Report Interview with Mossi Raz, 1/12/05)