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May 31, 2005 - Vol. 6, Issue 44

...57% of Israelis would be willing, 39% unwilling, to see Palestinian sovereignty over some of the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem... READ MORE

ISRAELI MAJORITY BACKS JERUSALEM COMPROMISE: In Friday's Ma'ariv survey of Israeli public opinion, 57% of the general public said that, in the long term, they would be willing to see Palestinian sovereignty over some of the Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, while 39% were unwilling to compromise. Even 40% of Likud voters and 30% of Likud Central Committee members favor such a compromise. The poll also showed continued majority support for the disengagement plan, with 58% of the general public backing the initiative and just 29% in opposition. A plurality of Likud voters (49%) supports disengagement, compared with 37% who do not. But only 39% of Likud Central Committee members favor disengagement, while 53% oppose it. (Ma'ariv, 5/27/05)

NO TOOLS IN THE SHED: In his analysis of the outcome of the Abbas-Bush meeting, Ha'aretz commentator Akiva Eldar pointed out that there was little substantive difference in what President Bush said last week compared to his previous statements, while signs of a serious Administration push to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were non-existent. He wrote, in part, ".If the disputes with regard to the settlements and Hamas didn't exist, Bush would have to invent them. They provide a pretty wide berth to the president, who is making do with actions that do not deviate from managing the conflict. According to the public statements, in the meeting with Abu Mazen, as in the case of the talks with Sharon, the issues of a timetable, verification mechanisms, and enforcement measures were not on the agenda. These three issues are central tools in resolving conflicts, tools without which the words are empty and the music like a background melody in a doctor's clinic.

"Abu Mazen did not get a timetable for the dismantling of the outposts, and did not hear a single world about Bush's intentions to exact from Sharon a price of some sort for expanding settlements. He did not come out of the meeting with a balancing declaration, let alone a document-compensation for the letter Bush gave to Sharon in April last year. Once again, the Palestinians had their hopes dashed to hear the president utter the words "an exchange of territories"-scant comfort for Bush's recognition of the existence of Israeli population centers in the West Bank. And the main issue: Abu Mazen can't present his voters with an American undertaking that after democratic elections, a reform of the security mechanisms, the disarming of the militants, and a peaceful disengagement, Bush will bare his superpower claws in order to drag Sharon into a final status agreement.From all these aspects, it was as if the visit didn't take place." (Ha'aretz, 5/27/05)

NEW VILLAS SLATED FOR ILLEGAL OUTPOST: Instead of removing the illegal settlement outpost of Mitzpe Yair in the Hebron Hills, settlers are planning to build a villa neighborhood there consisting of 45 houses on the Maon range that overlooks the Judean Desert. The chairman of the Hebron Hills Regional Council approached a number of settlers currently living at the outpost and informed them that some of their number will have to move their trailers to make way for the new permanent structures. The veteran illegal outpost was established as an ecological farm and grows rare plants along with many animals, mainly storks. Six families live in the outpost. They support building such illegal communities, expanding them, and seizing control of land in the West Bank, but some of them are opposed to constructing a villa neighborhood, which they believe would completely destroy the region. Dror Etkes, director of Peace Now's Settlements Watch project, said, "This is proof that every outpost is in fact a new settlement. The Israeli government continues to speak in two voices. Sharon appoints a distinguished lawyer to handle the outpost issue, but construction and planning go on." (Yedioth Ahronoth, 5/24/05)

BACKSTAGE AT THE WHITE HOUSE: Yedioth Ahronoth reported that, under U.S. pressure, Israel has promised to give the Palestinians over the coming days all the information regarding the infrastructure in Gush Katif and the northern Gaza Strip. This refers to maps and diagrams of the power grid, the water pipelines, the road system, the houses, and the public buildings that serve the Gaza settlers. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his aides complained that despite Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's public offer to coordinate withdrawal with them, Israel has not given the Palestinians any information that will enable them to decide what to do with the territory they will be receiving. Senior Israeli officials admitted to the Americans that debates between different sides in the Israeli government and bureaucratic obstacles have delayed the transmission of the information. They said that due to reservations from the security establishment, the Palestinians cannot be given all this information.

Further, the Americans demanded to arrange the matter of an open passage linking Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians have stepped up pressure on this issue, fearing that the disengagement plan is no more than an Israeli scheme to cut off Gaza from the West Bank. Israel promised to advance construction of a passage that will be under Palestinian control. The leading plan at present is to pave a sunken road to link Gaza to the West Bank. Israeli drivers will travel on bridges that will pass over the Palestinian road. (Yedioth Ahronoth, 5/27/05)

PRAGMATIC SURLINESS: Gadi Taub provided an interesting analysis of the different parts of the Israeli public that oppose and support disengagement, writing, "The public atmosphere regarding the disengagement plan is a peculiar thing. On one side there is passion, which somehow still sounds hollow, and on the other side a kind of obscure determination, lacking in enthusiasm, bordering on the indifferent. The side with the passion, the settlers, are building up a sense of emergency and apocalypse. Some of the writers on this side are clearly engaged in morale: Persuading the believers that they are the majority-at least in potential-that their strength is rising, that their battle is succeeding. Since all of this stands in distinct contradiction to the polls, which show every week a stable majority supporting disengagement (after a small drop, once again there was a rise in support), self-persuasion is needed in order to blame the media, and maintain the hope that the majority will yet awaken and sober up, or that the gentile landowner or the dog will die. When it comes to morale-building writers, it is hard to know whether they really believe all this, and this may be the source of the hollow ring.

"Others encourage an apocalyptic feeling: In Netzarim the future of the entire settlement enterprise will be decided (this in itself is apparently true), and therefore no concessions can be made by any means. These statements are meant not only to strengthen people's spirits, but also to threaten the majority that any moment now, there is going to be a civil war here. Some of the rabbis also believe that their role now is to sound as extreme as possible, as frightening as possible, and if the battle fails (as it apparently will), then at the last minute they will rein in the horses and prevent an outburst of violence. It is unlikely they will be able to do this. Religious rulings encouraging disobedience, the opinion of Torah, which supercedes the opinion of the majority-all these will be hard to retract, especially among the wild margins.

"On the other hand, stands a large population that supports disengagement, but faces ideological confusion of its own. It does not pose passion versus the settlers' passion, and the more the settler passion rises, the more detached from reality it looks to this population. In Ramat Gan, in Kfar Saba, in Beer Sheva, even in Jerusalem. On the side of the supporters of disengagement there are no great hopes, and no sense of festivity, even though what is happening is crucial and dramatic. Nothing from the spirit of the far-reaching days of Oslo beats in the hearts of this population. Instead, the supporters of the initiative display a quiet disgust, at times an after-the-fact indifference.

"They are not behaving as people for whom a new future has opened up, rather as people who are recovering gradually from a long fever, which almost wiped out the Zionist enterprise. They look like people who are awakening from a nightmare that they would prefer to forget, the bad dream of annexing to the Jewish state three and a half million Palestinians. The Israeli consensus, which veered dramatically in the first days of Oslo, did not veer dramatically this time. It trickled, leaking through the cracks in the fortified middle-ground wall, and is slowly rallying around the understanding that if we continue to hold on to the fantasy of the greater Israel, we will find ourselves in a binational state. This is not elation, but rather a kind of pragmatic surliness. But there is something stable about it, and that is the meaning of the stability in the polls. For what looked to the settlers like a weariness of the Center and Left from Zionism, is apparently the opposite. It is an awakening from a long period of consternation, of the most basic Zionist instinct: The fear of losing the Jewish majority." (Ma'ariv, 5/23/05)

DISENGAGEMENT BY NUMBERS: Most of the Gaza and West Bank settlers slated for evacuation this summer are children. More than 46% of Gaza settlers are under the age of 14, while 10% are between 15 and 19 years-old. About 15% of Gaza settlers are in their 20s, and 28% are between 30 to 59 years-old. Most of the 1,100 families live in urbanized settlements, while 400 families work in agriculture. In the northern West Bank, 26% of the settlers are under the age of 18.

Meanwhile, Israeli Police Commissioner Inspector-General Moshe Karadi said that implementing disengagement will require 7,000 police and protecting the Temple Mount from a terror attack in the same period will take another 5,000 police. He said it is still not clear how the police will cope with these manpower requirements. He added that arresting hundreds of people, bringing them to court in a single day, and dealing with demonstrators who are disturbing the peace outside the courthouse poses logistical problems. Not to be outdone, the IDF plans to call up close to 8,000 reservists during the implementation of the evacuation plan, but only a small number of officers and reservists will take an active part in the actual pullout. Instead, they will replace regular units engaged in the evacuation. (Ynet, 5/23/05; Israel Radio News, 5/23/05; & Ha'aretz, 5/26/05)

PALESTINIANS WILL BE SHOT: During the Gaza disengagement, IDF soldiers will be able to use live fire against Palestinian civilians who try to reach the settlements being evacuated. The possibility is being taken into account that masses of Palestinians will stage giant processions towards the Gaza settlements in an attempt to take over the houses immediately after the settlers leave them. In fact, a similar scenario took place already, when masses of civilians who left their villages in the security zone in southern Lebanon ultimately caused the collapse of the SLA and the hasty withdrawal of the IDF from there. The orders currently prepared at the Southern Command state that such processions should be forcibly prevented from reaching the settlements being evacuated. The orders state that if necessary, this should be ensured by use of live fire as well. As long as the last IDF soldier has not left, Palestinians will not be allowed to enter the areas being evacuated. Israel fears a situation where masses of Palestinians loot the homes, while Israeli troops are still on the premises, packing the settlers' belongings. (Yedioth Ahronoth, 5/25/05)

RAFAH RECONSIDERED: Israeli Vice Premier Ehud Olmert said that Israel is willing to gradually give up control of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, handing it over to the Egyptians within a few months of Israel's evacuation. At the same time, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Egypt plans to deploy 1,500 to 2,000 troops along its border with Israel to ensure an "orderly" Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Olmert said Egyptian forces would take full control of the border post "when they are ready" after the planned pullout from the Strip. The subject has been sensitive since Israel has been reluctant to give up control over critical security issues. "We hope the Egyptians will take it over," Olmert said. "We are negotiating with the Egyptians. They will take it over." Asked if Egypt would take it over completely, Olmert said yes. Aboul Gheit said, "We are talking about 1,500 to 2,000 on the Egyptian-Israeli part of the border. On the Egyptian-Palestinian part of the border we are talking about another 750 people. That is subject to the understandings that we are trying to reach with the Israelis. We are not yet fully there." (Ha'aretz, 5/22/05)

POTHOLE POLITICS: There have been several cases of close cooperation between the Israeli Civil Administration and Hamas officials to resolve specific issues and problems in the past few weeks. There were negotiations between the Civil Administration and a Hamas-affiliated council member at Silat al-Dhaher near Nablus that led to the IDF lifting a closure order it had imposed on the village after several rock throwing incidents. In addition, the newly elected mayor of Jayyus, in the Kalkilya area, negotiated with a local IDF officer for improved procedures at an access gate in the security fence. One member of Kalkilya's newly elected Hamas-affiliated council said the council fully intends to liaise with the Civil Administration on major projects such as boosting the town's ailing electrical grid. And an Israeli military source said that Israel was increasingly reconciled to such interaction. "[The contacts] are both good for us and good for them," he said. Likewise, Hamas' West Bank leader, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, said, "Our first priorities now are in the fields of politics and the municipal services, and we intend to fulfill those duties even if we have to deal with the occupier [Israel]." (Jerusalem Post, 5/26/05)

JAIL HOUSE ROCK THE VOTE: Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails are forming a political party to run in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council. It is the first time the prisoners have tried to run for election separately from the parties to which they belong. In the past week, the security prisoners committee in each jail-on which Fatah, Hamas, and the left-wing Popular Front are represented-decided to post a joint list of candidates that will seek the votes of Palestinians throughout the occupied territories. The committees are drafting the joint platform of the "prisoners party" and drawing up the list of candidates. The establishment of the joint prisoners party is a new departure in Palestinian politics because, outside the jails, the parties are at loggerheads. The move reflects the disappointment of the prisoners with their party colleagues on the outside, whom they accuse of not doing enough to secure their release. (Yedioth Ahronoth, 5/25/05)

CROSSING THE JORDAN: Last week, Jordan removed restrictions on the entry of Palestinians from the occupied territories that were imposed after the Intifada erupted in 2000. Palestinians can now enter Jordan after signing a statement that they will leave when their visas expire, and indicating their place of residence. The Interior Ministry warned that it would impose fines on those who overstay their visas. Previously, to enter Jordan, Palestinians had to acquire an entry permit and deposit $2,000, which would be refunded when they left. Jordan had imposed the restrictions due to fear of an exodus of Palestinians into the country because of the Intifada. (UPI, 5/25/05)

MENTAL BLOCS: Commenting on the Israeli government's intentions for the West Bank, Aluf Benn wrote, "The answer is so pat and self-understood that the question is no longer asked. 'The settlement blocs are vital to Israel, and Jerusalem will be united for eternity,' the state's leaders proclaim, and nobody even asks why anymore. What's so vital about Ariel and Maaleh Adumim and Efrat and Kiryat Arba, that it's worth getting killed for them? That question is important to every Israeli because in the coming years the battle over annexation of the blocs and East Jerusalem will be at the center of the conflict with the Arabs. Israel will be threatened with boycotts and international isolation, and many will pay with their lives if the war with the Palestinians resumes. It is important, therefore, that every Israeli citizen demand explanations from the country's leaders and understand where they are headed before electing them.

"As the elections loom closer, the candidates tighten their embrace around the settlement blocs. Ariel Sharon justifies this as ensuring topographical control of the coastal plain and outskirts of Jerusalem and the ground water aquifer in Samaria. Benjamin Netanyahu also wants the Jordan Valley and southern Hebron Hills, 'which are void of Palestinians,' and Shaul Mofaz doesn't get why Ariel is considered a settlement. After all, it's part of Israel. Even Ehud Barak, who wants to lead the left, brags that he would fence in all the settlement blocs 'with American funding'.

"It might have been possible to think they're right, if those same stories hadn't been heard before. About Sharm el-Sheikh and the Suez Canal and Yamit, about the territories taken from Jordan in the Arava, and the security zone in Lebanon, and the Nablus casbah, and of course about Netzarim and Kfar Darom. All of these the leaders of Israel had declared to be vital; that without them security is lost. Thousands of Israelis and Arabs paid with their lives in the futile attempts to hang on to those places. And each time it became clear once again that the struggle had been hopeless, that the flag was really a scarecrow. That at crunch-time Israel gave in up to the last millimeter of the armistice line. Both in the agreements it signed and in the unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

"The Green Line is not sacred. It is a border made up entirely of a historic patchwork collection. Its force stems from it being the only dividing line of the Land of Israel recognized by international agreements. And reality teaches us that international recognition is stronger than 'facts on the ground.' Each Israeli withdrawal was justified as ensuring control of the next hill: Sinai for Judea and Samaria by Menachem Begin; Lebanon for the Golan Heights by Barak; Gush Katif for Maaleh Adumim, 'which is connected contiguously to Israel,' by Sharon. These territories are still in Israel's hands, but the Palestinians have not given up a single inch of them, not even after supposedly losing the Intifada. The Golan, too, will be back on the negotiations table post-Assad. The so-called vitalness of the settlement blocs derives from the fact that apparently no government will manage to evacuate cities such as Maaleh Adumim, Ariel, and Beitar Illit, and the Palestinians also grasp that and that's why they agreed to territorial exchange. The problem is that Israel has a much bigger appetite for blocs and is stingy about handing over substitute territories.

"As for Jerusalem, Sharon knows that annexing 200,000 Arabs within the separation fence is political and demographic folly, and he doesn't have the guts to say that to his friends in the Likud and to the public. It's more pleasant for him to hear cheering for his declarations that 'there won't be any compromise on Jerusalem.' There's no need to rush to the Green Line. One can and should demand a suitable security and political return from the Palestinians and the Syrians. But a courageous leadership would prepare the public for the inevitable withdrawal, come up with creative solutions for border amendments and territorial exchanges and enlist international support for them, instead of deluding the public with empty promises that will only cause more killing and sorrow." (Ha'aretz, 5/25/05)