To return to the new Peace Now website click here.

December 5, 2005 - Vol. 7, Issue 29

A Week At The Races: The latest results of Israelis on Knesset elections - Kadima 34; Labor 27; Shas 11; Likud 10...READ MORE

A Week At The Races: According to the latest Dahaf/Yedioth Ahronoth survey of Israelis, if elections were held today for the 120-seat Knesset, here is how many seats each party would get (with last week's results in parentheses): Kadima 34 (33); Labor 27 (26); Shas 11 (10); Likud 10 (13); United Torah Judaism (UTJ) 6 (5); Shinui 5 (6); Yisrael Beiteinu 5 (5); Meretz-Yahad 5 (5); National Union 5 (5); National Religious Party (NRP) 4 (3); and Arab parties 8 (9). These findings indicate that Ariel Sharon and Amir Peretz will be able to form a national unity government after the elections with 61 Knesset seats and with no need for a coalition with other parties. In a Smith/Globes survey, Kadima would win 34 seats, Labor 24, and Likud headed by Benjamin Netanyahu 12. Friday's Teleseker/Ma'ariv poll found that if elections were held today (with last week's results in parentheses), Kadima would get 39 (34), Labor 26 (28), Likud 11 (13), Shas 8 (8), Arab parties 8 (8), Shinui 6 (7), National Union 5 (5), Meretz-Yahad 5 (5), UTJ 5 (5), NRP 4 (4), and Yisrael Beiteinu 3 (3). A Dialog/Ha'aretz poll found if elections were held today, Kadima would win 37 seats, Labor 26, Shas 10, Likud 9, NRP-National Union 9, Arab parties 8, UTJ 6, Yisrael Beiteinu 6, Shinui 5, and Meretz-Yahad 4.

There was a good reason that Kadima was so anxious to recruit Shimon Peres to its ranks. In the Dialog/Ha'aretz survey, when asked how Peres' departure from Labor to join the new party would influence their chances of voting for Kadima, some 30% said Peres' departure from Labor would increase their chances of voting for it, while only 15% said the addition of Peres to Sharon's party would decrease their chances of voting for Sharon. And in the Dahaf/Yedioth Ahronoth poll, 36% of respondents said they were more likely to vote for Kadima, while only 19% were less likely to do so. (Yedioth Ahronoth, 11/30/05 & 12/2/05; Ynet, 11/30/05; Globes, 12/1/05; Ma'ariv, 12/2/05; & Ha'aretz, 12/1/05)

Hail To The Chief: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon intends to consider instituting a presidential regime in Israel after the elections, or another administrative system that would reduce the power of the political parties. A high-ranking official close to Sharon said that the public is sick and tired of the current system in which the prime minister has difficulty ruling because his hands are tied by his party's central committee and his faction. To that end, a committee will soon be established to examine several alternatives to the current system. Sharon wants a new system that would allow the administration to work with different parliamentary controls that would not tie his hands and Knesset Members who would be accountable to the public, not the parties' central committees. According to cabinet minister Meir Sheetrit, a comprehensive presidential-regional system "will prompt stability in government and a much stronger connection between elected officials and those who elect them."

However, Professor Yitzhak Gal-Nur of Hebrew University said, "People are continually searching for a wonder drug for the weakness of the government in Israel, without realizing that the problem has nothing to do with the power of the prime minister but rather with its ability to carry out actions. We need to realize once and for all that what looks tempting elsewhere, such as the presidential system of government in America or the two-party system in England, is inappropriate for the structure of Israeli society. There will always be at least seven or eight parties in Israel, and even if one or two of them unite, rifts will be found in them the morning after elections. A presidential system of government is suitable for a place where there is a federation and a constitution, such as the United States." Gal-Nur suggests changing the system of representation in the Knesset so that half of its members are elected nationally, as they are today, and half in regional elections. (Yedioth Ahronoth & Ha'aretz, 11/27/05)

Worthless Word On Outposts: Former Israeli Justice Ministry official Talia Sasson, author of a government-commissioned report on illegal settlement outposts, slammed the Sharon government for inaction over promises to dismantle them. "Nothing has been done to remove them, contrary to all commitments," she said. The Sasson report concluded that government ministries had either turned a blind eye to or handed out millions of dollars to help finance and build scores of illegal settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank. "It is particularly regrettable to learn that the authorities apparently do not intend to dismantle Amona," she added. Amona is an outpost where 25 settler families live on private Palestinian land near Ramallah. Israel's High Court of Justice ordered it to be dismantled. The IDF and Defense Ministry are instead trying to reach an agreement with settlers that will lead to the evacuation of the site, but they prefer to refrain from evacuating outposts until after the elections. A military source said that in the course of discussions between the two sides the possibility was raised that the defense minister would allow for construction in other illegal outposts if the settlers left Amona. The IDF recommended sealing the outpost's permanent buildings, though they fear that this step will not be enough to satisfy the court. (AFP, 11/29/05 & Israel Radio News, 11/28/05)

Thieves In The Night: Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has launched a first of its kind investigation into the affair of the construction of illegal outposts in the West Bank and the disappearance of 400 trailers. The investigation has been going on covertly for over half a year, and as part of the investigation, police detectives raided the Department for Rural Construction in the Housing Ministry a few days ago to seize documents and evidence against top officials who approved and expedited the construction of illegal outpost throughout the West Bank. The Justice Ministry and the State Attorney's Office reached the conclusion that there was no choice but to investigate suspicions of bribery and breach of trust.

Documents were also seized relating to the disappearance of 400 trailers that the Housing Ministry put up in 2004, when Effi Eitam was housing minister. The disappearance of the trailers, worth NIS 70 million, was revealed in the Sasson report earlier this year. The report said that in order to evade the obligation to issue a tender for buying and placing trailers, the Housing Ministry bought 400 trailers and handed them out only to illegal outposts in the occupied territories. This was done without any explanation, criteria, or payment. After they were placed, a tender was issued to buy the trailers, which was won by the companies that had built them. (Yedioth Ahronoth, 11/30/05)

Harvest Of Destruction: Last week, Palestinians charged that settlers cut down 200 olive trees in a grove belonging to Palestinians from the village of Salem. One of the village's residents called other villagers to the grove after spotting a group of settlers from a nearby illegal outpost. The Palestinians then summoned the police. "Last month they burned about 50 acres and destroyed more than 300 trees. Before that, they cut down hundreds of trees, and today an entire grove was ruined and 200 trees were cut down," said Bassam Shatiya after losing dozens of trees in addition to another 100 trees burned the last time. "Last month, the Israeli coordination officer who was dispatched to the area promised us that this was the last time he allowed settlers to do such a thing, to cut down and burn trees and to harm the villagers' livelihood. But now it has happened once again and we don't know what we should do. It has happened ten times already in the past two years, and they haven't done anything." (Ynet, 11/27/05)

The Root Of The Problem: In a lead editorial commenting on the ongoing destruction of Palestinian olive trees by settlers, Ha'aretz wrote, "The illegal outposts, which the government has refrained from dismantling, are home to lawbreakers who, in addition to seizing lands that do not belong to them, are in the habit of assaulting their Palestinian neighbors, and the Palestinians' property and plantings, on the assumption that the arm of the law is too short to reach them. In recent years, the olive harvest season has become a time of delights for some outpost residents, and the amount of destruction that they manage to wreak-with no interference-on Palestinian olive groves is mind-boggling. In the village of Salem alone, some 180 olive trees were torched in May, while 250 trees were chopped down in July, and another 200 in October. On Monday, village residents discovered a group of Israelis, whom they recognized as residents of an outpost near Elon Moreh, using an electric saw to cut down dozens more olive trees. In total, some 900 olive trees have been destroyed in Salem alone over the last half year.

"The destruction of olive trees is not just a mortal blow to the livelihood of rural Palestinians; it is primarily an evil act that reflects a desire to assail one of the most prominent symbols of the Palestinians' hold on the land and an attempt to prove that the settlers indeed intend to inherit these lands and expel their inhabitants. But the destruction of these trees also symbolizes the apathy, not to say criminal disregard for the settlers' actions. The harm done to the trees is just the tip of the iceberg of the ongoing abuse that the outpost residents inflict on their neighbors. Since April, the nonprofit organization Yesh Din has submitted 84 complaints to the Samaria and Judea Police, covering incidents of murder, physical assault, and other forms of abuse against Palestinians. Five cases have already been closed. Not one is being heard in court, and nobody has been arrested. A spokesman for the Samaria and Judea Police claims that 672 files have been opened about disturbances of the peace by Israelis against Palestinians, but this sizable number says nothing about the results. Most cases are eventually closed. Investigations are not conducted seriously; the police do not invest resources in this district; the police stations are located in the settlements, so Palestinians fear going to them; and most of the policemen are settlers themselves. Needless to say, no government agency is making any effort to change this situation.

"If the government were interested in bringing the guilty parties to trial, if the prime minister spoke out publicly against the criminal violence committed by citizens of Israel, it is doubtful that the outpost residents would be able to continue their assaults for even another week. The Shin Bet security service, which is capable of capturing a wanted man hiding in the heart of a populous Palestinian city, would surely have no difficulty locating a few dozen Israelis who chop down 200 olive trees in broad daylight, with no interference, and then pack up their tools and go back to their illegal houses in an illegal outpost. Evidently, no one is interested in putting a stop to these acts-just as no one gets upset over the establishment of illegal outposts in the first place. One crime leads to another, and violence leads to more violence. And disregard for all this is what makes the outpost residents omnipotent in the territories." (Ha'aretz, 11/30/05)

True Confessions: Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni stated publicly last week that the separation fence will serve as "the future border of the State of Israel" and that, "the High Court of Justice, in its rulings over the fence, is drawing the country's borders." Livni's remarks are in contradiction to the position of the state prosecution, which she oversees as justice minister. The prosecution has many times stated in court, when petitions against the separation fence were heard, that the barrier is a "security" rather than a "political" fence, and that it is a temporary tool. "Just as the fence has been built, so it can be taken down or moved," the prosecution has oft stated. Speaking a few days ago at a legal conference, Livni said, "One does not have to be a genius to see that the fence will have implications for the future border. This is not the reason for its establishment, but it could have political implications." Supreme Court Justice Mishael Cheshin, who participated in the conference, told Livni, "That is not what you have contended in court." However, the fence does not demarcate all of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's territorial ambitions in the West Bank. He told reporters last week that Israel intended to keep control of the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank, signaling his insistence on retaining settlements there under any future peace deal. The Jordan Valley current lies outside of the planned route of the fence. (Ha'aretz & Reuters, 12/1/05)

Diplomatic Talk Sprouts On The Farms: In light of Syria's declaration that the Shebaa Farms are Lebanese, some Lebanese parties suggested last week that it was time to liberate the area through diplomatic means rather than Hezbollah's military operations. Commenting on Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa's statement in Barcelona, former President Amin Gemayel said that the statement "set the basis for a diplomatic era to end the Shebaa Farms problem." Speaker Nabih Berri was quoted by Amal MP Anwar Khalil as saying that Sharaa's declaration "had opened the door to solving the Shebaa Farm dispute very soon." Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said that his eyes were focused on the positive declaration in Barcelona, but in order "to reaffirm the Lebanese identity of Shebaa Farms, we must have the proper documentation." Beirut MP Gebran Tueni echoed the call for Syria to put its pledge on paper, saying, "We need an official document signed by the Syrian government.We don't need declarations because our Syrian brothers talk too much." Meanwhile, a senior Israeli security source said that he believed that an arrangement was feasible in which Syria announced that it was formally renouncing its claim of ownership over the Shebaa Farms, whereupon Israel could return the territory to Lebanon in exchange for either disarming Hezbollah or its incorporation into the formal Lebanese armed forces. (Daily Star, 11/30/05 & Ma'ariv, 12/1/05)

To Protect & Serve: After a period of stagnation, the international community has begun a drive to transform the largest of the Palestinian security services, the civilian police, into a modern force capable of enforcing the rule of law and stamping out growing chaos. At the center of this move is the European Union, which recently announced a three-year mission to reform and rebuild the police force in the West Bank and Gaza. "The civil police is the cornerstone of all the Palestinian security forces," said Jonathan McIvor, head of the EU Co-ordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support (EU-COPPS). "It is a cornerstone of democracy, it's the most important of all the Palestinian security forces in terms of building a Palestinian state, not to mention the most `together.'" EU-COPPS began work as a four-man team in early 2005. Starting in January, it will expand to 33 international and unarmed staff, plus 17 Palestinian personnel. Kaj Stendorf, chief superintendent of the Danish national police, is among the advisers training the Palestinian police. "We're not starting from scratch, there's definitely a potential to build on," Stendorf said. "There's an optimism in the police force. They want to do the job, but they lack the tools."

It is a deficiency that EU-COPPS has begun to address with some significant results. Within its first few months, the mission restored the radio communication system to 60% of the Palestinian police force, after it had been decimated by Israeli attacks. In addition to a fleet of blue patrol cars, EU-COPPS saw to the delivery of 50 motorcycles for traffic police and 1,500 riot control kits, all donated by Spain, at a cost of $12 million. In the West Bank, EU-COPPS refurbished the police training center in Jericho and is building a dormitory there with money donated by the UK. It is also running smaller projects, from renovating police posts to purchasing equipment from uniforms and computers, down to paper and bottles of ink. A high-ranking officer from the Palestinian police is involved in all the project management committees and decision-making process. "Building trust is the most important thing. It's a learning curve for the Palestinians so they can eventually take over and carry on our work because we don't see ourselves here forever," said Stendorf. In related news, during a security briefing last week, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz pointed to initial signs of security activity in the Palestinian Authority (PA) "This is not an all-encompassing systematic move, but there have been some arrests made, and we do identify a will by the PA to put a stop to the anarchy," he said. (BBC, 11/30/05 & Ynet, 11/28/05)

Mulling Over Marwan: Analyzing the implications of Marwan Barghouti's recent win in the Fatah primaries, Ofer Shelah wrote, "Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has said more than once that as chief of the general staff at the time of Operation Defensive Shield, he informed Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer of the impending arrest of Marwan Barghouti in Ramallah only when Barghouti's house had already been surrounded and the operation was already in progress. The reason was simple. Ben-Eliezer and Chief of Military Intelligence Amos Malka both thought it would be a mistake to arrest Barghouti. One day we will make peace with him, Fuad (Ben-Eliezer) said. About peace it is too early to say, but Israel certainly has reached agreements with Barghouti on calming down the situation. From his cell in prison, the head of the Tanzim approved the hudna, which collapsed in the summer of 2003, and also the current tahdiya. Were it not for Barghouti, the El-Aksa Martyrs Brigades would never have adopted the unofficial ceasefire, without which it is doubtful whether the agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas would have been achieved. All this was done with Israel's knowledge, even though Israel did not recognize it officially. How could we recognize it when the man had been convicted and sentenced to consecutive life sentences?

"Before the Intifada, Barghouti was the darling of the Israeli Left. Even after his arrest he continued to talk about an historic compromise between the two peoples. The man who ordered his arrest-Mofaz-with the support of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said as far as he is concerned all this talk is worthless. There is no doubt that people obeying Barghouti's orders carried out terrorist attacks, and therefore he is an enemy, and he who arrested him does not believe that it is enemies with whom one makes peace. The problem is that in the meantime there is neither peace nor agreement. The enemy is in jail and blood is still being shed. Perhaps there was justice in the arrest of Barghouti, but wisdom there certainly was not. Since Barghouti's arrest we have been searching desperately for someone with whom we can hold a dialogue, not to mention make peace. Abu Mazen is weak, elderly, and isolated from the grassroots. Hamas is extremist and soaked in blood. Barghouti is the outstanding figure in the Palestinian middle generation, those who fight against Israel but know that sooner or later the Palestinians will have to live alongside the Israelis whether they like it or not. He is the most popular man in the territories and every day that he spends in jail only makes his standing stronger.

"But now it is impossible to release him because an Israeli court has sentenced him, and it will be a long time before there will be someone else with whom it will be possible to talk. A long time after the arrest of Barghouti, Malka described it as `stupidity,' and indeed, he who arrested him was throwing a stone into the well, whether intentionally or out of indifference. Now it will be much harder to pull it out." (Yedioth Ahronoth, 11/27/05)