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May 23, 2005 - Vol. 6, Issue 43

THE 60% SOLUTION:...the disengagement plan has regained historic level of support in Israel; 60% said they support disengagement, while just 27% are against it...MORE

THE 60% SOLUTION: After a brief dip in the polls, the disengagement plan has regained its historic level of support in Israel, in part perhaps due to the general revulsion to the settlers' road block tactics. In a survey carried out by Maagar Mochot, 60% of Israelis said they support disengagement, while just 27% are against it, and 13% gave other answers. When asked their position regarding the blocking of roads by disengagement opponents, 58% said they oppose it, 21% said they understand the reasons but don't support the tactic, 12% said they support it, and 9% gave other answers. 55% said they think that the road blocking hurts the anti-disengagement side, 11% said it helps them, 26% said it has no effect, and 8% gave other answers. In a survey carried out for Ma'ariv, support for disengagement jumped to 59% after its low point of 54% two weeks ago. At the same time, 68% of respondents said they think that the form of protest adopted by the disengagement opponents is not legitimate, with just 25% saying it is. On the other hand, public support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon plummeted to a mere 44%, perhaps due to public disgust at the wave of corruption and misgovernment that has hit Israel recently. (IMRA & Ma'ariv, 5/20/05)

MEN ON HORSEBACK (AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM): In addition to coverage of disengagement protests and Palestinian mortar and rocket attacks on Israeli settlements last week, the Israeli press-particularly Ma'ariv-wore out several thesauruses describing the problem of corruption in the government and society. As it happens, Professor Avi Degani, President of the Geocartography Knowledge polling firm, contributed an article to Globes that quantified the disillusion that Israelis have with their democratic political system. He wrote, "The combined results of public opinion polls conducted in recent weeks require attention and justify deep alarm. Israelis are crying out in frustration that the Knesset has become one big marketplace of special interests, rather than the representative of the people.

"Knesset Members (MKs) mainly see to their private interests, including reelection, according to 74% of respondents. They deal with the interests of their parties to some extent, say 10%, and only a negligible few are concerned with the national interest, say 6%. 52% of respondents say that the moral level of MKs is lower than that of the general public, and 75% of respondents believe that at least a tenth of MKs are suspected of criminal activity. A decisive 66% of the public say that party central committees have private agendas that are not focused on promoting the country's interests or solving its problems.The result is that 73% of the public do not want the current system to continue, because at present, unelected deal-makers in the party central committees directly and grossly interfere in political matters and the future of the nation daily, by keeping the elected representatives of the Knesset on a short rein.

"The frustrated nation wants change in the political system that will bypass the obstacle of the Knesset. In other words, a prime minister with authority (a 'strong leader') elected on the basis of a declared policy that can then be carried out, but.not through the Knesset. 68% of the frustrated public believes that the Knesset does not represent the nation; instead policy should be decided through referendums on critical matters, such as vacating settlements, peace treaties, and the like.The Knesset is perceived as a hotbed of improper deal making between wealth and political power and irregular political appointments, rather than a model of proper administration for the benefit of the public. The Knesset sends ministers to the cabinet who emasculate the prime minister who appoints them, and undermines the ability of the prime minister to carry out his or her declared electoral platform. Moreover, repeated polls indicate that this policy reflects the will of the majority of the public: over 60% favor disengagement.

"A 54% majority of the public believes that were a referendum held and the majority of the public voted against the disengagement plan, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would not abandon his policy or hold new elections, nor would he resign. Instead, he would make semantic changes in the wording of the plan, and carry it out.72% of the public is convinced that the settlers, for their part, would definitely not respect the results of a national referendum favoring disengagement, and would even use force. Threats of civil war, and the burning tires and the blocking of intersections we saw [last] week, fuel the public's fears. The result of all this has been the creation of [a] public norm, influenced by political and religious leaders, that 'I will obey a law, provided that I agree with it'.In the absence of a worthy political culture, with a parliamentary regime that fails to work properly, and a frustrated public, there is now a strong and dangerous tendency to disengage from parliamentary democracy." (Globes, 5/19/05)

ON THE ROAD: Israeli police detained 405 right-wing activists last week for blocking roads all across the country to protest the disengagement plan. A total of around 3,000 demonstrators took to the street and helped bring traffic to a halt. Some of the female protestors took advantage of their cell time to write graffiti on the walls like, "We liquidated Rabin, we'll liquidate you, too" and "Sharon, Hitler is proud of you." One of the protest organizers, Orit Schpitz, told Ynet, "The operation was organized in 24 hours. Our success stemmed not only from our strength and unity, but also from the cooperation with police officers, who not only refrained from reacting violently, but even helped us a bit. We have noticed a split in the police ranks; police officers relate to us, we are their brothers. When I say the police officers helped us, I mean some of them identified with our struggle and in some cases allowed the road-blockings."

Indeed, one commentator, Buki Naeh, noted, "This is not the way to clear roads, bottle necks or junctions. Those who carry signs and shout by the roadside are demonstrators, and it is their legitimate right to demonstrate as much as they want and about whatever they want. Those who go into the road and lie down there, who bring tires and block traffic, are breaking the law and police act against them. But the police are acting like circus clowns. When police in Israel want to do something, they do it, and when police do not want to carry out a task, they don't. The events of [last Monday] certainly arouse concern that there is no chance in the world that police will be up to the disengagement task. If they cannot clear Geha junction, then how will they be able to evacuate Gush Katif?"

Another commentator, Yair Lapid, observed, "Somebody's going to die. He doesn't know it yet, but he's going to die. His ambulance is going to get stuck, his heart is going to collapse, her fetus is going to be stillborn, one of the burning tires is going to blow up his gas tank and he is going to be burnt alive, for the glory of the State of Israel. More than anything else, what stood out most [last Monday] was the flippancy. The settler youngsters produced, at our expense, a festival of self-adoration that to them seemed to be truly revolutionary. [On Monday] they stood in Jerusalem and screamed 'police state.' For a moment, it was impossible not to regret that they were mistaken. In countries where the police are more resolute and less exhausted-like France or the United States-they would have been tossed out of the street within three minutes.Nobody likes to have thugs running their lives, certainly not Israelis stuck in traffic. On the other hand, maybe there is a valuable lesson to be learned here. The Israeli public finally understood what it feels like to live with roadblocks. Now we also have a sick old lady, our kids won't get to school either, we also left for work but will never get there. For a single moment on Geha road, we too were Palestinians." (Ynet & Yedioth Ahronoth, 5/17/05)

LESSONS IN DEMOCRACY: Last week, Rabbi Zalman Melamed, dean of the Beit El Yeshiva, stated that there is no sanctity in democracy and it does not take precedence over any religious commandment, certainly not over the commandment to settle the Land of Israel. His comments were published in a booklet that was distributed in the West Bank. Meanwhile, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz finally issued some guidance about what is and is not acceptable in terms of protest against disengagement. Shoving, spitting, and throwing stones at soldiers or police are definitely no no's and should not be considered legitimate forms of expression, he said, adding that blocking major traffic arteries may endanger people's lives. However, he ruled that posters saying, "Disengagement is tearing the nation apart," "The transfer (of Jews) will not be passed," and "Sharon is a dictator" are legal and within the bounds of free speech. (Israel Radio News, 5/16/05 & Ynet, 5/19/05)

LIMITED TIME OFFER: Gaza settlers were given seven days last Wednesday to sign up for a plan to relocate to the Nitzanim area after they are evacuated from their homes under the disengagement plan, prompting the settlers to petition the High Court of Justice to issue an urgent interim injunction to freeze the deadline. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni warned that those who do not sign up within a week will not be part of the communal evacuation.nor will they qualify for the set of magic ginzu knives. She said that 426 families have signed up for the plan so far, and the government is still answering inquiries. She added that, in her opinion, the number of families that have already signed up for the plan necessitates the construction of at least one new town in addition to the expansion of Nitzan. Livni emphasized that the seven days given to settlers to sign up for the plan is not an ultimatum. Those who wish to sign up for the Nitzanim plan after this week will be able to do so, but the government will no longer be able to guarantee that requests regarding community housing will be granted. So act today! Operators are standing by! (Ha'aretz, 5/18 & 20/05)

A WARD OF PRAISE: U.S. security envoy General William Ward praised the Palestinian Authority (PA) for reshaping often rival security services, whose mission he said must include keeping militants in check. "The Palestinian Authority has taken essential steps to.restructure its forces, to cause a single line of authority to exist," he said. "That will enable a more effective mechanism for dealing with law and order on the streets as well as for combating terrorists." Ward hailed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' public call for "one authority, one law and one gun," but said there was "more to be done, to be sure." This last point was underscored by the barrage of mortars and rockets that terrorists fired at Israeli settlements and communities last week. When Israeli Minister Matan Vilani pressed Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Yousef to explain the surge in violence, Yousef replied that the terrorist groups, first and foremost Hamas, are stronger than the PA's security agencies. "They have more weapons and munitions than we have," he said. "Only 25% of the Palestinian police have firearms. The rest have to use their batons to fight."

Meanwhile, Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Sha'ath called for the suspension of a Muslim preacher who described Jews as "a virus resembling AIDS" and denied the Holocaust in a sermon broadcast live on Palestinian television. Sha'ath said he asked the Waqf Muslim religious trust and PA Religious Affairs Ministry, which employ the cleric, "to suspend him, investigate him, and prevent him from delivering further Friday sermons." It was one of the strongest signs of action from the PA against incitement. President Abbas is slated to meet with President George Bush on Thursday, at which time he plans to ask him for direct financial aid as well as political support. "Our government's economic and financial institutions now have the ability to deal with direct aid," he said. (Reuters, 5/17 & 19/05 & Yedioth Ahronoth, 5/20/05)

GESTURING TO THE STANDS: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz last week approved a series of gestures to the Palestinians, over the objections of the Shin Bet security service and despite the continued mortar fire in Gaza. However, the IDF supported the decision, with senior officials warning that if Israel did not act to strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, "he'll fall, and then we'll have to give more abatements to Hamas, which will gain power in his stead." The measures, which will be brought to the cabinet for approval after Sharon returns from the U.S. this week, involve steps that Israel originally promised at February's Sharm el-Sheikh summit: freeing an additional 400 Palestinian prisoners, allowing the return of wanted Palestinians deported to Europe following the standoff at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity in 2002, and allowing the return of Palestinians deported from the West Bank to Gaza.

U.S. security coordinator General William Ward pressured Israel to take these steps in recent days. "You complain that the Palestinians are not fulfilling their commitments," he told his Israeli interlocutors. "But what about your commitments?" The decision to approve these gestures now is also related to Abbas' upcoming visit to Washington. Sharon hopes to deflect Abbas' expected complaint to President George Bush that Israel is not helping him. (Ha'aretz, 5/20/05)

PEACE DEPENDS ON PULLOUTS: Jordan's King Abdullah warned last week that if Israel does not also disengage from the West Bank after leaving Gaza, he would retreat from the peace process. He said that no party would be satisfied if only some parts of the Road Map were implemented, with other parts left out. (Jerusalem Post, 5/19/05)

ON HER MAJESTY'S OVERT SERVICE: The British government is considering a major Middle East policy switch that would mean engaging directly and openly for the first time with the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah, who are expected to make significant gains in elections in the West Bank and Gaza and Lebanon. A review is under way at the Foreign Office and a submission is to be presented to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw within the next few weeks. British diplomats at present have little contact with either group. But the Foreign Office is swinging behind the view that it would be hypocritical to encourage democracy but refuse to accept the outcome, even if it means working with groups it finds distasteful. A change in policy would strain relations with Israel, which has warned against dialogue with the groups, but whose own Civil Administration is set to work with newly elected Hamas officials who recently won municipal races. Indeed, the success of Hamas in these local elections has forced the British to rethink their stance. But some in the Foreign Office argue that Hamas should not be accepted, even after elections, unless it renounces violence and drops its stated goal of the destruction of Israel. (Guardian, 5/20/05 & Jerusalem Post, 5/17/05)

LAND DEAL MAY NOT BE GREEK TO OLD CITY SETTLERS: The purchase of real estate near Jerusalem's Jaffa Gate from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was reportedly made by settler organizations operating through off-shore entities in the Bahamas. The central figure in the deal is reportedly Mattityahu Dan, an activist in the Ateret Cohanim organization, which has been buying buildings in the Muslim and Christian quarters of Jerusalem's Old City and in East Jerusalem in recent years. The identity of the property's purchasers has been kept secret, reportedly to conceal the money trail. The settler associations in the Old City are partially supported by donors, but most of their budgets come from public and government money, as when the St. John's Hostel was bought with funds from then-Housing Minister David Levy. The initial payment for the Imperial Hotel at Jaffa Gate was reportedly $1.5 million and the advance payment for the adjacent Petra Hotel totaled $500,000, out of a total of $10 million to be paid in installments of several hundreds of thousands of dollars each. The money was deposited in the Patriarchate's bank accounts. (Ha'aretz, 5/15 & 20/05)

JUDGEMENT DAY: The Israeli High Court of Justice rescinded the temporary injunctions imposed on separation fence construction work near the West Bank settlements of Ariel and Immanuel. The IDF was allowed by the court to resume construction until the court's next session on the petitions against building the barrier in that area. Palestinian villagers have filed four petitions against the fence in the region known as Ariel's Tallons-four sections of fence built near the abovementioned settlements. The sections in dispute are located on the eastern tip of Ariel's Tallons. In addition, the High Court for the first time heard a petition from a Jewish settlement that has been left on the Palestinian side of the barrier in the Hebron hills. This petition was submitted by settlers in Tene, a settlement of 500 people located three kilometers north of the Green Line. The petition is precedent setting in that the court may order the state to change the fence route in order to establish territorial contiguity between Israel and a settlement in the West Bank. It would also mean that for the first time, the court would be ordering the state to build a fence separating Palestinian landowners from their farmland. (Ha'aretz & Jerusalem Post, 5/16/05)

DUBIOUS IN DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) denied that Israel, without fanfare, is planning in the near future to open an economic interests section in Dubai, reports that Israeli sources have confirmed. According to Israeli sources, however, at the request of the UAE, the section will keep a low profile, the flag will not be flown, and the diplomats dispatched there will be Israeli diplomats who hold foreign passports. But a source in the UAE Foreign Ministry replied that, "reports of an Israeli office to be opened in Dubai are absolutely baseless." The UAE, said the source, will normalize ties with Israel only after a just and peaceful resolution is found to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In Jerusalem, there were two schools of thought regarding opening a very low-profile interest section. The first, which held sway, argued that Israel has a lot to gain from a presence there-even a low-profile one-in terms of opening other doors in the Arab world. On the other hand, there is another school of thought that argued that Israel has never agreed in the past to hiding its diplomatic presence, and should not begin now. According to this line of reasoning, Israel has an interest section in Qatar that does not hide its identity, and the one in Dubai should follow suit. (Jerusalem Post, 5/16/05)

EGYPTIANS TOUR ISRAEL: After a long period in which Egyptians stayed away from Israel, 735 Egyptian tourists entered the country in April, according to the Israeli Interior Ministry. The bulk of the visits were Easter holiday pilgrimages, which lasted some ten days. The pilgrimage trips included tours of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and Tiberias. It was also reported recently that the Interior Ministry has received requests from travel agents who want to bring Jordanian tourists to Israel. To this end, the Interior and Tourism Ministries are working to draft a new "one-day" tourist visa, which would permit tourist ships to dock in Haifa and allow tourists to visit the country for several hours. Until now, tour operators had to request regular tourist visas, which covered 90 days but took up to ten days to receive, for groups coming from countries that lack visa agreements with Israel. (Ynet, 5/14/05)