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December 19, 2005 - Vol. 7, Issue 21

THE BUBBLE POPS: According to the Dialog/Haaretz survey (taken prior to Prime Minister Sharon's stroke), the Kadima Party would win 35 seats (down four), Labor would win 24 (up two)

THE BUBBLE POPS: According to surveys taken prior to his stroke, after three weeks of an unfettered rise in the polls, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Kadima Party is heading in the other direction. In Thursday's Dialog/ Ha'aretz survey, if elections were held today for the 120-seat Knesset, Kadima would win 35 seats (down four from last week) and Labor would win 24 seats (up two from last week). Likud stayed stable at 12 seats. Sharon associates said the loss is a slightly belated result of the " Hanegbi - Mofaz effect," referring to two senior Likud officials-Tzahi Hanegbi and Shaul Mofaz-who switched allegiance to Kadima and apparently scared off some Labor voters who had been willing to defect. Some 20% of Likud voters who switched to Kadima have left in the last few days, just as Labor voters who were apparently put off by Hanegbi and Mofaz have also returned home.

In Friday's Ma'ariv survey, if elections were held today, Kadima would get 39 seats, Labor 22, Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu 13, Shinui 4, Yisrael Beiteinu 5, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) 5, National Religious Party (NRP) 5, Meretz-Yahad 5, National Union 6, Shas 8, and the Arab parties 8. And in Friday's Dahaf/ Yedioth Ahronoth poll (with changes between this week and last week in parentheses), Kadima would get 38 (-3), Labor 23 (+2), Likud 11, Shas 10, Yisrael Beiteinu 7 (-1), National Union 6 (-1), UTJ 6, Shinui 4, Meretz-Yahad 4, NRP 3 (-1), and the Arab parties 8. As things now stand, Sharon's internal polling team believes that the final ceiling for Kadima will be 45 seats, and the floor will be 25. His internal polling also projects that the maximum potential for Labor is around 28 seats, and its floor is less than 20.

Meanwhile a new poll conducted by Tel Aviv University demonstrated to the Arab parties that they should join forces-and quickly. This survey found that Balad and the United Arab List may find themselves outside the next Knesset because of the higher electoral threshold, which has been raised to 2%. Zionist parties, whose strength in the Arab sector has been dropping since the 1990s, again obtain a significant portion of the votes of Israeli Arabs. About half the votes in the Arab sector will go to Zionist parties, with Labor expected to win about 33%, Kadima to take 10.7%, Likud and Meretz-Yahad to settle for 1.5% each, and Shas to take just 0.5%. If the Islamic Movement were to participate in the elections, it would win about 23% of the vote, meaning 3-4 seats. (Ha'aretz, 12/13-15/05; Ma'ariv, 12/16/05; & Yedioth Ahronoth, 12/15-16/05)

HALF OF ISRAELIS READY TO DIVIDE JERUSALEM: Accusations about whether or not Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is willing to divide Jerusalem flew fast and furious in Israel last week, fueled by an interview by Sharon's pollster Kalman Gayer in Newsweek in which he raised this as a theoretical possibility. Sharon vehemently denied it. But, according to Sima Kadmon in Yedioth Ahronoth, "Twenty-four hours after the publication of Gayer's statements, the majority of the public, 56% [in the newspaper's survey last week], believes that Sharon would agree to the division of Jerusalem in the framework of a peace agreement, and only 37% believe that he would not agree. And in any case, it doesn't prevent most of the people, 54%, from thinking that Sharon is the most fitting for the position of prime minister (in contrast to 21% who believe that Peretz is the most appropriate candidate, and only 16% who believe in Netanyahu ).

But an additional question regarding the division of Jerusalem indicates a surprising response, not to say an amazing one: 49% of the public supports a compromise proposal, according to which the Arab neighborhoods and the Arab communities adjoining the city would be transferred to Palestinian sovereignty in the framework of a peace agreement, and the Jewish neighborhoods and the Western Wall would remain under Israeli sovereignty. Precisely the same percentage, 49%, opposes the idea. This means that even before the negotiations about Jerusalem begin, half of the citizens of Israel are prepared for a compromise in exchange for a peace agreement." (Yedioth Ahronoth, 12/16/05)

PERETZ TO DITCH ROAD MAP, PUSH FOR PEACE: If elected prime minister, Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz intends to reach a final status agreement with the Palestinians within one four-year term. He intends to engage in immediate negotiations with the Palestinians, and prefers the direct channel over the Road Map. In a talk with European diplomats, Peretz said, "The Road Map is a formula for utter political stagnation that could last for decades. It is a waste of our time." In a separate interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, he presented the principles of his peace plan and its timetable. "I will work to reach a final status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians as soon as possible," said Peretz. "At the conclusion of the term we must be subsequent to the final status arrangement with the Palestinians." Within a year, he wants to finish negotiations with the Palestinians, and within three years he wants to implement in practice the final status accord, which will focus on establishing a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. Peretz also clarified that in any peace arrangement with the Palestinians, he would insist that there be no partitioning of Jerusalem and no right of return for Palestinian refugees.

In his discussion with European diplomats, Peretz said, "Since we are not reaching the implementation of the first stage of the Road Map, we should not wait, but rather launch immediate negotiations for the final status arrangement with the Palestinians and with Abu Mazen ." He explained that "the Road Map is not sacred, and is also not a condition for negotiations on the final status arrangement. It can be skipped." Peretz argued further that the Road Map leads to establishing a provisional Palestinian state, "which will remain hostile towards Israel, whereas the Palestinian state in the final status arrangement will be of a friendly nature to Israel. The final status arrangement should be accelerated instead of the Road Map."

Still, he is opposed to canceling the Road Map since it was signed between the two sides with international backing and supervision. "The Road Map's problem is that it is given to many interpretations, and can be acceptable both to the extreme right and the extreme left. There is the possibility of a Palestinian state in this plan, but also the possibility of a deep freeze." As for Israel's relations with Abu Mazen, he said, "I do not accept the approach that there is no partner. The approach that there is no partner perpetuates the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians."

In an interview with Ma'ariv, Peretz was asked to elaborate on his position on Jerusalem. The interviewer said, "You were quick to say you would not divide Jerusalem. Do you truly believe that Jerusalem will remain united? Do you want to include over 200,000 Palestinians in the state?" He replied, "The question of the number of Palestinians we want to absorb is significant and limits will have to be set for Jerusalem, but not at the beginning of negotiations. The question of Jerusalem is sensitive and lots of small explosions have to be dismantled that could turn into a big blaze." The interviewer asked, "So will Jerusalem be divided?" Peretz answered, "The terms sometimes decide the entire matter. I will only say that the State of Israel will have to consider what number of Palestinians it is capable of taking in. After that, it will be possible to discuss the rules for negotiations." (Yedioth Ahronoth, 12/11/05 & Ma'ariv, 12/9/05)

THE AYALON APPROACH: One of Amir Peretz 's leading security advisers in the Labor Party is Ami Ayalon , former director of the GSS. In an interview to discuss his approach to the peace process, he said, "We say that we (Labor) are the party of peace, which means that it is not enough to fight terror and to conquer Ramallah ten times, but also to propel the peace process forward. We say that with all due respect to searing their consciousness, it is irrelevant when the other side has nothing to gain or lose." Targeted killings, he said, are just one component in the campaign on terror. The main part, in fact, is the diplomatic front. "Our main problem is how to create policy that will take us out of the cycle of fighting," he said.

To this end, Ayalon has worked out a plan that includes two main components and three red lines. The first component is a pinpointed war on terror. "You strike those who come to kill you, not his neighbor," Ayalon said. At the same time, you speed up the construction of the fence, "in the spirit of the High Court of Justice," and decide that by the end of the present decade not one Jew remain east of the fence. Ayalon said, "It is unethical and not smart to build houses and to pave roads in order to demolish them later. Sending people to kill and be killed while conducting a policy of blurring the goals. Our goals must be made clear, i.e., to implement the evacuation-compensation law, and give clear preference to moving to the Negev, the Galilee, and to Jerusalem."

And there are also red lines: the large settlement blocs will come under Israeli sovereignty in the framework of a land swap; no Palestinian will move to the State of Israel in the framework of a final status deal, and the State of Palestine will not be armed in a way that it can endanger Israel. "In the meantime," said Ayalon, "let them bring in as many brigades as they want into Jenin for the umpteenth time. It is only important to realize that targeted killing is neither strategy nor policy, it is a means. It must be realized that the limits of the western world on the use of force will only become stricter. The real solution is clarity of policy and abiding by it...Settling in Gaza and the West Bank was the continuation of the Zionist conception, but today the settlers have to realize that their historical role has ended. That ultimately we will leave the West Bank, and the question is only when and how high a price we will pay until this happens." (Yedioth Ahronoth, 12/9/05)

TALK OF THE TOWN: A new survey of Israelis conducted by MarketWatch on behalf of the Geneva Initiative found that a majority of Israelis prefers that the next government conduct negotiations to reach a permanent agreement with the Palestinians and not carry out another unilateral disengagement. According to the survey, 62% of Israelis favor negotiations for a permanent agreement with the Palestinian Authority, while just 15% support implementing another unilateral pullout and 18% oppose both options. Further, there is a moderate rise in the percentage of Israelis who think a permanent accord is obtainable, from 42% in August to 46% today. The percentage of people who back the Geneva Accord has risen from 26% a year ago to 30% today. (Ha'aretz, 12/12/05)

JE SUIS LA PARTIE: Commenting on the one-man band that is the Kadima Party, Yaron London wrote, "A proper election campaign is based on ideas and on people who purport to fulfill them. The key player in this election campaign is Kadima, which has no platform nor institutions whose members are called upon to voice an opinion on the path outlined by its leader. The opinions of several of the prominent figures hanging onto the coattails of the founder are known, and far from compatible. You will search in vain for a common denominator between Uriel Reichman , one of the founders of the moderate Shinui, and Shaul Mofaz , who up until a few days ago contended that he wished to lead the Likud in order to rein in Sharon 's dangerous tendency leftwards. In vain will you try to find a point of connection between Haim Ramon , who supports a unilateral withdrawal towards the separation fence, and Tzahi Hanegbi , who opposed even the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

"Kadima is Ariel Sharon , and it would appear that no one knows what this man wants. The chaos and the mystery are demonstrated in the words of one of Sharon's close advisers, pollster Kalman Gayer , who said that Sharon does not rule out concessions in Jerusalem. Conversely, we may recall the words of associate Weisglass , who said Sharon does not intend to budge an inch.

"Therefore, there is no choice but to lead the election campaign towards a discussion of Sharon the man, and draw conclusions from his past regarding his future. His actions are well known, but people have a short memory and are inclined to be impressed by the near past and to forget what took place in the many decades in which he filled important political positions. There is no doubt that one of his most important actions was his great contribution to the settlements in the occupied territories. He did this with the firmness that is one of his striking personality attributes, often misleading the governments in which he served and circumventing the requirements of the law. Now he admits that many of the settlements he helped establish will be wiped off the face of the earth in the future. In other words, he himself grasps that it was a pointless effort that diverted resources of an incredible scope towards a mistaken cause. Correcting the error will cost us a price that will cause Israeli society to regress many years backwards.

"On this matter, one cannot avoid a dichotomous judgment: Either Sharon is making a terrible mistake in aspiring to remove the settlements located in the heart of the Palestinian population, or else he made a terrible mistake by establishing them. Either he brought a disaster upon us, or he will yet do so. The explanation for the forgiving attitude that so many citizens display towards the person who brought this dilemma upon us is similar to the reason that residents of Wild West towns used to appoint the bandit leaders to the post of sheriff: Only those who were quickest on the draw could overcome the gangs that they had previously headed. This idea has proven itself many times. In movies.

"Rivers of ink and cascades of words have been spent on Sharon's role in the Lebanon war. Many things, mainly the secrets of the grandiose plan that aimed to remove the Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon to the Kingdom of Jordan, are still concealed, but what is known is enough to fear the thought that this charismatic and reckless person, who misled the members of the cabinet in which he served, will determine our future. He did not understand the nature of the Christian allies whom we joined, did not identify the seats of power in Lebanese society, did not predict the awakening of Shiite fundamentalism, and did not properly assess the limitations of Israeli society's strength. The war he initiated cost us over 1,000 fatalities, thousands of people were injured, a sizeable fortune and a deep rift in Israeli society..." (Yedioth Ahronoth, 12/15/05)

REVERSE BRIBERY DEEPENS THE OCCUPATION: Two days before he bolted Likud and joined Kadima, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz met with the Likud chairpersons of local authorities in the West Bank and gave them permits to build hundreds of housing units in various settlements. "Perhaps this way he wanted to appease us, the settlers, and obtain the support of the council chairmen in Judea and Samaria, who are influential in the Likud," said a settler leader. "But after giving them the gifts-he realized that not even they would be able to save him, and two days later moved to Kadima." In the meeting, Mofaz asked the settler leaders to give him their political support in the contest for the leadership of the Likud-and approved settlement building plans in the West Bank. Among other things, construction was approved for dozens of housing units in settlements beyond the security fence, such as Bracha and Nokdim, the plans for which had lain on the defense minister's desk for a long time.

In addition, Mofaz approved construction of over 200 housing units within the settlement of Maale Adumim and the advancement of building plans in the settlements of Givat Zeev and Betar Elite. Mofaz also approved moving 40 trailers intended for settler families evacuated from Netzarim and relocated in Ariel and "security components" (i.e., building a security fence, lighting, etc.) for Mitzpe Yericho. The council chairs and mayors of Maale Adumim, Ariel, Givat Zeev, and the Etzion Bloc, where the construction was approved, are Likud Central Committee members, and so are many of the settlers who live in Bracha. (Yedioth Ahronoth, 12/14/05)

ISRAEL CAN'T LOCATE 520 ILLEGAL SETTLEMENT HOUSING UNITS: According to Akiva Eldar , reporting in Ha'aretz, every Friday, Israeli police and Palestinian demonstrators against the security fence square off near the village of Bil'in. Meanwhile, not far away, on the Israeli side of the fence, building violations on a massive scale are taking place in broad daylight to expand the settlement of Upper Modi'in, according to official documentation. The State Prosecutor's Office was surprised to find a document from the Upper Modi'in legal counselor was appended to a letter that it received recently from attorney Michael Sfard , the Bil'in residents' attorney. Sfard began the letter he sent to attorney Aner Helman , who represents the state in the Bil'in case in the High Court of Justice, with a quote from the state's response to the Bil'in residents' petition against the fence: "Based on developers' reports, which the Civil Administration are incapable of verifying, in the western tract of Plan 210/8, which has already been developed, there are about 750 housing units, of which some 520 have been sold." Further down, it stated that since the construction is being carried out in accordance with an invalid plan, "this is partly unlawful construction."

Pretty straightforward. A representative of the attorney general, the supreme law enforcement authority in Israel, is informing the Supreme Court that the Civil Administration, the body that is by law responsible for the construction of every porch in the occupied territories, "cannot verify" the construction of 750 housing units, of which about 520 have already been sold. "Do I understand from what you say that the State of Israel officially admits that it has lost not only its ability to enforce the law on the settlers," asked Sfard, but also "the ability to reach the construction sites and gather data?" If the prosecution were to ask this of the policemen who are sent each Friday to the site, they would have no problem verifying that the construction is continuing apace. They could even disclose that the developers have uprooted hundreds of olive trees in an area that was not even supposed to be part of the neighborhood/settlement outpost. (Ha'aretz, 12/14/05)

DONORS DEMAND MORE PALESTINIAN REFORM: Global donors may hold a pledging conference by next May to raise funds for the West Bank and Gaza if Palestinians push forward with economic reforms and improve governance. A meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee that coordinates aid to the Palestinians said more cash would depend on Israelis and Palestinians abiding by commitments made in a deal to open an international border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. The donors said the Palestinian Authority had to continue to implement economic reforms and improve internal governance to create an attractive environment for private investors.

"With support from the international community, the Palestinian people have made significant progress over the past twelve months," said British Foreign Minister Jack Straw . "But more has to be done. The Palestinian Authority needs to deal with its fiscal crisis by maintaining strict budgetary discipline. The wage bill will need to be contained and revenues further enhanced." Donors also said the Palestinians had to do more to stem violence against Israel, disarm militant groups, and improve security in Palestinian territories. "In this context, confronting terrorism and ensuring law and order is paramount," said the chair's summary of the meeting. Donors also said Israel had to restore Palestinian access between Gaza and the West Bank, without which economic revival would be impossible. (Reuters, 12/14/05)