To return to the new Peace Now website click here.

June 20, 2005 - Vol. 6, Issue 47

DISENGAGEMENT'S HEALTHY RECOVERY: In a Ma'ariv survey, the percentage of supporters rose to 55%. (disengagement opponents have never passed 38%).

A PATRIOT'S ACT: The residents of the settlements and illegal outposts in the northern Hebron hills will soon receive guard services from a man who usually does everything in his power to have them removed from the occupied territories. Peace Now Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer received a call-up order for reserve duty, summoning him for security duty over the Green Line in place of regular soldiers who will be taking part in disengagement. Oppenheimer will begin his reserve duty on July 17th, and for three weeks his battalion will replace a regular army unit that is designated to participate in the evacuation of settlements. Oppenheimer's battalion will be stationed in the southernmost sector of the Etzion regional brigade, and is expected to carry out security patrols on the Telem-Adora road and guard settlement outposts in the southern Etzion bloc. "I am glad to take part in disengagement," said Oppenheimer. "Just as I will go to guard outposts and settlements that I am opposed to, I expect right-wingers not to disobey orders and to take part in disengagement."

However, the right-wing weekly Besheva reported that soldiers in the Golani Brigade will not evacuate settlers during the evacuation. The decision was made due to the fact that many of the brigade's officers and soldiers are religious Jews, who have announced that they are unable to participate in removing Jews from their homes. The weekly says that the IDF decided to change the brigade's assignment "for fear of disobedience, lack of motivation, and lack of cooperation on the part of many officers and soldiers in the brigade." After a recent conference to discuss disengagement, the brigade commander talked with deputy battalion commanders, who made it clear that the brigade is not suitable for carrying out the evacuation order, and that is not why they joined the IDF. Besheva also reported that yeshiva soldiers with a Golani company stationed on Philadelphi Road have told their commanders that they will not carry out orders directed against settlers. Senior officers in the Golani Brigade denied the report. (Ma'ariv, 6/15-16/05)

DISENGAGEMENT'S HEALTHY RECOVERY: The erosion in Israeli public support for disengagement appears to have stopped, according to two polls last week. In a Ma'ariv survey, after hitting a low point of 50% support two weeks ago, the percentage of supporters rose to 55%. Even at its lowest point, the number of disengagement supporters was greater than the number of opponents, which never passed 38%. Further, there is a Jewish majority in favor of disengagement, which today stands at 54%. In addition, the Ma'ariv survey found that 51% of respondents do not think that disengagement should be postponed by several months in light of delays in preparing housing solutions for Gaza evacuees, compared with 39% who think it should be postponed.

According to the latest Peace Index survey from the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, some 57.5% of Israeli Jews currently support the disengagement plan, 35.5% oppose it, and 7% do not know, compared with 56.1% who supported disengagement and 38% who opposed it in April. At the same time, a 52% majority would prefer Israel to coordinate the disengagement with the Palestinians in order to reduce the chances of implementing the initiative under fire, while transferring control of the occupied territories to the Palestinian Authority (PA) as smoothly as possible. Only 38% think there is no point to devoting efforts to coordinate with the Palestinians. In light of the struggle over public opinion regarding the security implications of implementing disengagement and the various recent forecasts about Palestinian intentions for the "day after," 51% believe that if there is no progress in political contacts between Israel and the Palestinians, then the lack of a political horizon, the ongoing occupation, and the grave economic situation of the Palestinians means there is a high possibility of a further wave of Palestinian violence.

Only 32% think that, given the results of the second Intifada, there is no chance of another wave of violence in the near future. Further, in contrast to recent declarations from senior Israeli politicians that, if Hamas is successful in the upcoming Palestinian parliamentary elections, Israel will then terminate its contacts with the PA, a majority of Israelis (50% v. 41%) say that even if Hamas is a senior partner in the PA's leadership, Israel should continue negotiations with the elected leadership of the Palestinians. (Ma'ariv, 6/17/05 & Ha'aretz, 6/14/05)

HAMAS ON THE HUSTINGS: The latest survey of Palestinian public opinion conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that the level of participation in the next legislative election will be 77%, and that Fatah will take 44% of the votes, followed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad at 33%, 3% for the left, 8% for independent lists, and 12% undecided. The most important consideration in voting for individual candidates in the upcoming legislative race is going to be the integrity and lack of corruption of the candidate, followed by the ability to reach a peace accord with Israel, the ability to improve economic conditions, and the ability to maintain national unity. The major Palestinian public concerns are poverty and unemployment (34%), occupation measures (33%), corruption (24%), and internal anarchy and chaos (8%). In terms of general standing with the public, Fatah's popularity is now 41%, compared to 36% last March and 40% last December. Hamas' popularity now stands at 30%, compared to 25% last March and 18% last December. Despite a general feeling that things have either stayed the same or gotten worse in major areas of concern-such as settlements, economic conditions, and law enforcement-since Mahmoud Abbas was elected president, 60% of Palestinians are satisfied and 35% are dissatisfied with his performance. If new presidential elections were held today, Abbas would receive the largest percentage of support (24%), Marwan Barghouti (12%), and Mahmud Zahhar (8%), with 36% undecided. The margin of error is 3%. (PSR Press Release, 6/13/05)

BEHIND THE CURTAIN: Egypt is leading behind-the-scenes efforts to curb further ballot box successes by Hamas in upcoming parliamentary elections. The "Stop Hamas" campaign is part of a strategy to secure a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in August, a subsequent large-scale international aid and reconstruction effort, and a victory for Fatah and other "moderate" Palestinian factions in polls tentatively rescheduled for next January. Egypt's role in persuading Hamas and its allies to honor the ceasefire is said to have impressed Israel and the U.S. It is now working closely with Washington and Jerusalem to secure a path to final status talks next year. A senior Arab official claimed Cairo pressured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to postpone the legislative elections due to concerns that Hamas would win "a clear majority." Egypt is calculating that the return of Gaza to the Palestinians will give a big boost to Abbas, and improvements to security, freedom, and the economy could persuade many Palestinians to switch their support to Fatah. The Egyptian strategy calls for an immediate injection of financial assistance for Gaza once Israel has completed its pullout. Also, Hamas would be offered post-election carrots in the form of up to four ministerial posts and the chance to retain its weapons, possibly as part of the Palestinian Authority's reformed security forces, the senior Arab official predicted. Cairo is also keen to prevent Hamas' electoral successes being emulated by its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Egypt. The head of Egyptian intelligence, Omar Suleiman, said last week that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may visit Israel after the evacuation is over. (Guardian & Jerusalem Post, 6/15/05)

ON PLANET GAZA: In a special poll of settlers in Gaza and the northern West Bank who are faced with the prospect of evacuation this summer, 58% of settlers said they would like to see the houses that are evacuated to be destroyed, while 12% do not want them destroyed, 6% said it doesn't matter, 3% said they won't leave, and 21% gave no response. When asked if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon betrayed the settlers or decided to withdraw from lack of another choice in order to prevent bloodshed, 74% said he betrayed them, 16% said he had to withdraw, 3% had no opinion, 1% said he betrayed them for lack of another option, and 6% gave no response. 69% of settlers do not believe the evacuation will be carried out, and 91% have not prepared alternative housing. Asked how they will behave on evacuation day, 44% said they will offer passive resistance, 19% said they will struggle with the evacuation forces, 9% said they will leave quietly, 4% said there won't be an evacuation, and 24% gave no response. Just 17% said they would leave before the withdrawal, while 76% said they will stay until the evacuation. Only 11% said they will remove their children prior to the evacuation, and 62% said that their kids will stay with them. At the same time, 62% said that right-wing extremists should not come to the settlements to fight the evacuation, with just 21% saying they should come. (Yedioth Ahronoth, 6/12/05)

ARMED & DANGEROUS: The IDF has given weapons over the years to settlements to strengthen their defense against Palestinian attacks. With IDF now intending to collect weapons from settlers prior to evacuation, Israeli Defense Ministry and Interior Ministry data show that the settlers slated for withdrawal have no less than 1,872 M-16 assault rifles, 172 Uzi submachine guns, and 990 handguns. In addition, some of the settlements also have a few dozen 7.62 caliber machine guns and a number of 52 mm. mortars. (Ma'ariv, 6/17/05)

NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME: A Ha'aretz investigation found that the relevant Israeli government ministries responsible for preparing all matters related to disengagement will not complete their work in time for the pullout. The Housing Ministry is in the midst of preparing temporary and permanent living quarters for the mostly secular population that currently lives in northern Gaza, as well as erecting a large "trailer" site in Nitzan specifically meant for Gush Katif evacuees on the assumption that the site will be used for temporary housing prior to completion of the "Nitzanim plan." The Housing Ministry has also made available apartments for rent in major cities in southern Israel. Likewise, the Education Ministry has found enough space in elementary and secondary schools in Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Be'er Tuvia for students slated to be evacuated. In Nitzan, the ministry will establish kindergartens that will be ready to enroll 230 students. The ministry has also promised teachers living in Gush Katif that alternative schools will hire them following the disengagement plan. Despite these preparations, however, it appears most will not be completed in time either due to impossible schedule demands or the refusal of settlers to cooperate. Given that many of the settlers still do not know where they will reside, the neighborhoods currently being built may turn into ghost towns, while the classes being readied for students could likely remain empty. Settlers who hold agricultural assets have lost the chance to relocate elsewhere, and only 30 of 200 families owning agricultural projects who have requested compensation have received it. (Ha'aretz, 6/13/05)

SETTLING A REFUGEE CAMP: For the first time in its history, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is planning to rehabilitate refugees from the Khan Yunis refugee camp in new high rise housing projects that will be built in the area of the Neveh Dekalim settlement in Gaza. This is the first time the PA is rehabilitating residents of a refugee camp and is not "waiting" for them to move back to the places that were abandoned in the course of Israel's War of Independence. An Israeli security official said that this is a precedent, in light of the Palestinian leadership's stubborn refusal in the past to relocate refugees inside PA territory. The official also noted that even Hamas figures who firmly oppose any arrangement that detracts from the right of return know of the plans and have not expressed any opposition to their implementation. Discussions of the new Palestinian plan have been taking place for the past few months. No mention was made of conceding the Palestinian right of return, but Israeli security officials say that it is clear to the discussants that this is a permanent solution. (Ma'ariv, 6/17/05)

ISRAEL AGREES TO PA POLICE TRANSFER: Israel has agreed to a Palestinian Authority (PA) request to allow armed Palestinian police in the West Bank to be transported to Gaza in preparation for the pullout. The number of armed police has not been decided, but they will be deployed to prevent settlements and property from being vandalized or destroyed after the evacuation. One official said Israel agreed to this request to bolster Palestinian security forces loyal to the PA, because so many of the PA's forces in Gaza were affiliated with one of the radical Islamic groups. The transferred police will not be allowed to take weapons with them, but will be provided with weapons in Gaza by the PA. Meanwhile, a Palestinian official said that commanders from the two sides have agreed to revive a lapsed military liaison committee, which enables security forces to talk to each other about military operations, like closing weapons smuggling tunnels from Egypt into Gaza. (Jerusalem Post, 6/12/05 & AP, 6/16/05)

700 NEW SETTLEMENT HOUSING UNITS PLANNED: The Israeli Housing Ministry said that it would seek tender offers to build 700 new homes in the occupied West Bank. "At the end of the year, we are going to put to tender contracts to build 300 homes in the settlement of Maaleh Adumim and 400 homes in Beitar Illit," said a Housing Ministry spokesperson. According to Peace Now Secretary General Yariv Oppenheimer, "This project is new even if it is not going to be applied immediately," pointing out that the Road Map calls for a freeze on all settlement activity. Housing Minister Yitzhak Herzog has repeatedly declared that he intends to freeze all construction in the occupied territories. He even had the corridors of his ministry purged of aerial photos of construction in settlements (including Beitar Illit) in which his right-wing predecessors took pride. However, no dramatic decline has been recorded in the scope of settlement construction. In 2003 (under Natan Sharansky), 474 housing units in Maaleh Adumim and another 530 in Beitar Illit were put on the market. In 2004 (under Effi Etam), 130 housing units in Maaleh Adumim and another 542 in Beitar Illit went up for sale. (AFP, 6/20/05 & Yedioth Ahronoth, 6/19/05)

FENCING DUELS WITH DEADLINE: Construction work on the security fence around the Etzion bloc will begin in a few weeks, according to Israeli security officials. The goal of the building is to establish facts on the ground and to annex the Etzion bloc de facto by placing it on the Israeli side of the security fence-prior to the implementation of the disengagement plan. The assumption is that once disengagement has been implemented, the international community will be less lenient with Israel regarding the fence-the same thinking that has spurred construction of the barrier around Maaleh Adumim, as well. The Defense Ministry has already completed all the necessary preparations in advance of construction work on the fence around Etzion. Legal orders were issued expropriating land on which the fence will run, and the ministry signed contracts with 11 contractors who will carry out construction work simultaneously. This is one of the most sensitive parts of the barrier, since some of the areas that will be annexed de facto to Israel are farmland that is owned by Palestinians who live to the south of Jerusalem. Palestinian farmers will be given nearly free access to their land, but they will have to go through an inspection. The settlements to be annexed de facto to Israel are: Neve Daniel; Rosh Tzurim; Alon Shvut; Efrata; Midgal Oz; Kfar Etzion; and Bat Ayin. Givat Hatamar, the new neighborhood of Efrat, will also be on the Israeli side of the fence, while Givat Haitim will lie on the other side. Officials believe that if no substantial legal snags are encountered, the 60-km. fence around the Etzion bloc will be built within nine months. (Ma'ariv, 6/14/05)

A STATE OF DELUSION: A lead editorial in Ha'aretz commented on the settlers' campaign against disengagement, stating, "While the state makes another daily gesture toward the settlers of Gush Katif, cushioning their exit with millions of shekels and building them neighborhoods of private beachfront homes-coddling that few in the state have received-the settlers continue to spurn the decisions of the Knesset, government, and Supreme Court, and to liken themselves to sheep heading to slaughter. The ongoing opposition to the evacuation might have been acceptable had there not also been warnings-from those fomenting rebellion against the government-about an impending 'rift in the people.' That rift could, indeed, occur-and not because the citizens of Israel are not compassionate, but because the settlers are making every effort to remove themselves from the public. If they are not prepared to accept the decisions of the government, the Knesset, and the Supreme Court, and threaten to refuse evacuation orders and to barricade themselves in bunkers in the name of holy martyrdom, then the emotional break with them will, indeed, occur.

"What has grown increasingly clear of late is that the settlers are not pioneers on a state mission, as they have presented themselves, but rather self-designated envoys on behalf of their own worldview, and on behalf of some rabbi or other who ordered them to behave in this or that way. After years in which they preached to the public that they are the supreme exemplars of sacrifice and devotion for the sake of all, it turned out that their pioneering is conditional. So long as the public agrees with them, they serve the public; the moment the state decides on a different set of priorities, they are prepared to thwart a legal action of the state and to punish it for hurting the realization of their individual and collective dream. The State of Israel is a state of immigrants and displaced people. Anyone who came to Israel was uprooted from a home, a neighborhood, a synagogue or a cemetery in his place of birth-in Europe, Asia, or Africa. These displaced people, immigrants and refugees, who today form the backbone of Israeli society, saw the very absorption in Israel as compensation for the evacuation, and they did this under harsh personal and economic conditions, without money, without knowing the language, and sometimes without a shred of sympathy from the veteran Israelis.

"Therefore, the evacuated settlers of Gush Katif need to keep things in proportion when they talk about trauma. The evacuation from Gush Katif to Nitzanim, a distance of 30 kilometers, or to any other place in Israel they choose, is not like any displacement experience that millions of other Israelis have undergone. When a youth reared in religious Zionism stands before a judge and says, 'I am a Jew from the land of Israel' (as opposed to the State of Israel), as though he were standing before a British Mandate judge, he cannot expect any empathy. It would be preferable for the settlers of Gush Katif to emulate in their protest Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy, who identified with their stance on the Evacuation Compensation Law, but when he remained in the minority, wrote in his dissenting opinion: 'Now that the High Court of Justice has also ruled by a majority that there is no flaw that justifies canceling the law entirely, all of us are obligated to obey the law, even if there are some who will be compelled to do so with gritted teeth.' All of the settler leaders who took the trouble to excitedly quote Levy also need to internalize his last statement." (Ha'aretz, 6/12/05)