[[ Jerusalem Times : News ]]

August 7, 2005



This week in Israel….. Behind the news with Gershon Baskin


Jewish terrorism and the disengagement


This week marked the beginning of the end of the settlers’ struggle against the disengagement. The most significant event marking the beginning of the end was the terrorist attack of Natan Zada in the Druze, Christian, Muslim Israeli city Shfaram. The moral bankruptcy of their cause competes with the stupidity of the criminal who apparently stated before being killed by the angry mob “I didn’t know that there were Druze in Shfaram.”  At first, apparently the passengers on the bus yelled that he was shooting people in the Druze part of town, later it became known that the victims were Muslims and Christians. Another four innocent people were killed in the name of the struggle for the Holy Land.


Israeli security professionals have spoken about three types of violent acts that the opposition to the disengagement could adopt: attacks against Palestinians (in Israel or in the territories), attacks against mosques – such as al Aqsa, and assassinations of Israeli leaders (such as the Prime Minister). The security experts pointed out the coloration between the levels of difficulty in carrying out the tasks to the potential impact from them.  The easiest task to carry out with the least amount of impact on stopping the disengagement is what happened in Shafaram. The most difficult task, in terms of logistics is assassinating the Prime Minister, who after Rabin is almost untouchable. But at this late point in the game, even assassinating the Prime Minister might not be able to stop the disengagement. We’ll see what unfolds in Jerusalem this week.


We will have to wait and see if the Shafaram attack will have any real impact on the behavior of the Palestinians. It seems that the political leadership of Israel, the Palestinians and the Palestinians in Israel have acted relatively responsibly. Sharon immediately condemned the attack as an act of terrorism. Many of the Arab members of Knesset exaggerated in their public responses, but the Palestinian citizens of Israel do not really recognize these people as their leaders and certainly don’t take instructions from them. Calm was kept over the weekend. It seems that the Palestinian citizens of Israel do not wish to repeat the tragic events of October 2000 and they will not allow a Jewish terrorist to prevent the disengagement.  Condemnation of the senseless killings came from across the board of the political spectrum. Sharon instructed the National Insurance agency to recognize those killed as terror victims.  Natan Zada’s body, the murderer, is still in cold storage while his family is trying to find a place for burial as one cemetery after the other has rejected their requests.



The mother of all demonstrations?


The settlers and their supporters tried their best once again to bring thousands of people to march on Gush Katif.  They tried their best to exhaust the police and army. They did bring thousands of people of all ages dressed in orange to Shderot and to Ofakim, and they did do scrupulous planning for how they would all get into Gush Katif in order to stop the disengagement. Apparently several hundred did manage to get into the Gush, mostly with the assistance of sympathetic soldiers who allowed them to pass by road blocks and checkpoints.  


At the beginning of the week, settler leader Pinchas Wallerstein said that he brought his white shirt with him – indicating that he was planning to spend Shabbat either in Gush Katif or on the way to Gush Katif. But already by Thursday, most of the settler supporters had packed up and went home for the weekend. Wallerstein and his white shirt also went home. The struggle to save Gush Katif is winding down and at this point it seems that almost nothing could stop the disengagement.


The cost of policing the demonstrations has been put at 2.5 million NIS per day (over half a million dollars). Early on in the discussions on compensation for settlers, one senior official had suggested that each settler family be given $1 million when they leave Gaza. The proposal was based on the idea that the settlers would find their own housing and make their own plans.  There would be no need for a Government disengagement authority, the government would not be in the business of constructing cara-villas, renting flats, building new communities, etc.  The settlers would make their own arrangements and in the end, the $1 million to each family would end up costing the public a lot less money. Yonatan Basie, the head of the disengagement authority Sela, would probably be a lot more popular with the settlers if all he had to do was hand them the $1 million check.


This week the disengagement opposition will focus their attention on Jerusalem with a series of mass rallies planned for the Jewish Holy site at the Western Wall (the Kotel) which is just below the Haram al Sharif/ Temple Mount.


On a lighter note, one of the Israeli newspapers told a story about a group of young settler girls in Ofakim who were chanting to a group of Border Police “Jews don’t expel Jews”, but it turns out that the group of Border Police were from the Druze unit!



Coordination picking up


This past week the Hamas and Jihad announced that there would not be any Qassam attacks during the disengagement. It seems that there is a real chance that the disengagement will not take place “under fire”.  This was also the first week that Israelis and Palestinians really seemed to be fully engaged in coordinating the disengagement. In a series of security meetings between the ranking officers in Gaza from both sides, the Palestinians submitted their operation plans for taking over the area from the Israelis in several phases over the next few weeks of Israeli withdrawals.  The plans that the Palestinians presented were so well prepared (the Palestinians were assisted by General Kip Ward and his team in the disengagement preparations) that Israeli officers said that they has almost nothing to add to those plans; there were only a few questions of clarification. In discussions following the meetings with the Palestinian officers they praised the Palestinian plans, but questioned whether or not the capabilities of implementation would match the good planning.  But Palestinian plans include some 55,000 troops and civilian popular forces engaging in attempts to prevent violence and looting.  Mohammed Dahlan has prepared 40,000 tee-shirts with the words “From Gaza to the West Bank” – this along with thousands of flags will decorate the streets of Gaza in an attempt by the PA to show that victory belongs to them and not to the Hamas.


In general, this week both sides talked, in private and off-the-record, of a real and marked improvement in the coordination on almost all of the open issues.  The presence of US Special Envoy, James Wolfensohn has certainly had an impact.  The Wolfensohn team has placed the major issues on the table and has obliged the sides to make decisions and to coordinate.  The issues regard access (Palestinians ability to use international borders including the future of the Gaza airport and seaport), movement (between Gaza and the West Bank and within the West Bank), and the economic regime (the future of the common customs envelope in Gaza).  Decisions on these issues are expected to be made this week.


One agreement that was nearly finalized between Israel, the PA and the Special envoy concerned the transference of the Israeli greenhouses to Palestinian hands.  The Government of Israel had agreed to pay the greenhouse owners 80% of their value in compensation if they leave the greenhouses behind them.  The US Government had agreed to pay the remaining 20% from USAID money pledged to the Palestinians.  While the Palestinians openly voiced opposition to using their aid money for compensation to the settlers, an understanding was reached that would make it possible. However, Deputy Prime Minister, Shimon Peres in complete disregard to prior understandings, disclosed the deal to the press. The wide coverage in the Israeli and international media, also picked up in the Palestinian media, forced the Palestinians to completely reject the deal. 


Now the settlers are dismantling and destroying the greenhouses and almost none of them will be turned over to the Palestinians.  The donors will probably make new funds available for developing new agricultural projects in Gaza based on the success of the Gush Katif. Hi-tech greenhouses using the latest Israeli technologies range between $5,000 - $15,000 per dunam, depending on the type of crops grown. The economic enabling element of most importance in the Gush Katif agriculture is access to the markets already developed by Gush Katif farmers.  A US consulting company that won a US Department of Agriculture contract to develop Palestinian agriculture is already working with various Israeli concerns in order to continue to have access to the Israeli markets. There is a chance that these markets could be maintained, but Palestinians will have to work quickly and ensure the same high quality of produce. The PA has established a company to manage and develop the assets of Gush Katif. The Palestinian agricultural cooperatives that already use advanced technologies and already export to Europe are patiently waiting to have an opportunity to get a piece of the action, but no one yet knows what will be the future of the land and any greenhouses left standing.



More settlements?


In an apparent attempt to court the right-wing, Sharon once again announced that there will be no more withdrawals after Gaza. But everyone recalls Sharon’s famous statements on Netzerim and Tel Aviv and no one really knows what’s next. The Housing Ministry under Labour Minister Herzog announced new tenders for the construction of more flats in the ultra-orthodox settlement Betar Elite, rapidly becoming one of the largest settlements. Betar Elite is in Gush Etzion which has been slated, in all of the negotiations with the Palestinians, to be included within annexed territories to Israel. It is more than likely that we will continue to see expanded settlements growth in those settlements that are within the “settlement blocs” that Sharon spoke with Bush about. Perhaps someone should remind Bush that the Road Map speaks quite explicitly against any settlement growth, including for “natural growth” and God knows, there is a lot of natural growth there – particularly in the ultra-orthodox settlements.


One of the more sinister Ministers in the Government, Likud Minister of health Danny Naveh, a Netanyahu loyalists, demanded that the Government immediately authorize the beginning of the implementation of the E-1 building plan to physically link Jerusalem with Maaleh Adumim. Naveh claims that Israel must do this in order to make the Palestinians understand that what is happening in Gaza will not happen in the West Bank or in Jerusalem. The Government did not yet debate the issue. It should be clear that if the issue does come to the Government, the Labour party will oppose it and if it passes the Government, the Labour party will leave the Government. This is but one of the issues that may bring down the Government some time after the disengagement is completed.


Water from the sea


The construction of the Ashkelon desalination water installation was completed this past week.  The opening ceremony will be convened this week.  The largest desalination plant in the world will produce 120 million cubic meters of water per year at a cost of about 53 cents per cubic meter.  In the coming years another similar size plant will be built in Hadera, and then two small plants at other sites along the coast line. In all, the plan calls for an additional 350 million cubic meters of desalinated water to be added to the pool.  In addition to more than 300 million cubic meters of recycled waste water going to agriculture, Israel is moving out of the water scarcity category. This should make reaching a deal on water with the Palestinians easier once the sides get back to the negotiations at some point in the future.