[[Jerusalem Times: Opinion]]


February 3, 2006


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




Non-conventional weapons in Amona


Elections fever in Israel is serving well the rule of law.  Suddenly, the removal of unauthorized outposts has become a top priority for the government of Olmert. Clearly making a correct strategic choice, Olmert is demonstrating firm leadership and asserting himself in the eyes of the Israeli public as the next best thing to Sharon. Olmert got it right in his assessment that the public wants to see the removal of the outposts and following the High Court’s decision, Olmert had the legal backing to demonstrate his firm resolve. 


The settlers, who failed to prevent the disengagement from Gaza understand that the battle for the West Bank has already begun. The young generation of settlers no longer accepts the leadership of Moetzet Yesha (The Settlers Council) who led what they call an appeasement policy.  No longer is there a call for embracing the police and army with hugs.  No longer is the slogan “we will win with love” being heard from the settler’s camp. This time the youngsters took to the front lines with the battle call “resistance”.  Armed with stones, blocks, metal bars, paint, oil, and a willingness to use violence, the settlers “non-conventional weapon” – 16 and 17 year old youths took on more than 6,000 Israeli soldiers and police. Unlike the Gaza settlers, the Amona settlers are their supporters were not families with young children.  The demographic make-up of the settlers and their supporters were not a mix of former development town residents from Israel’s Sephardic population like in Gush Katif. Amona’s supporters were the children of the upper and middle class Ashkenazi hard core settlement movement being faced by a wide array of Druze, Bedouin and Sephardi border police. There was a definite element of social gaps between the two sides.  The end result was violence with more than 200 people – kids and police being wounded.


In Gaza, Israel disengaged from the settlers and the settlements, today, many if not most of the settler youth feel that in Amona, they have now disengaged from Israel.  This is a real crisis for the national religious Zionist right in Israel.  There are growing sectors of that population who no longer feel that Israel is their State.  In their eyes, the State of Israel has lost its Jewishness and its Jewish roots.  For them the ultimate expression of the Judaism is their connection to the Land of Israel – which is not Tel Aviv, but the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria.  The majority of Israelis have recognized that the State of Israel cannot continue to occupy that part of the Land of Israel and therefore supports further disengagement.  The future of Religious Zionism will be shaped by the struggle amongst the settlers themselves between the old leadership, which stills believes that they must use the legal and the political systems of the State to fight their cause (although they already understand that the struggle for holding on beyond the security barrier has been lost) and the young leadership, the children of the founding generation of the settlers, who no longer see the State as the primary legitimate framework for the Jewish people and Zionism.  This internal crisis of religious Zionism will create a split in that movement with the more extremist elements of the settlers calling for the establishment of a separate sovereign State in Judea and Samaria.  There have been extremists elements in the past who proposed this agenda – now they have a potential following.



Livni in Egypt


Tzipi Livni on her first international mission abroad surprised even the experienced diplomats of the foreign ministry staff by holding a private meeting with President Mubarak for some two and a half hours- the meeting was initially scheduled to last 45 minutes. The Egyptians and the Israelis had a long list of issues to assess following the Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliament.  Egypt surprised everyone by insisting that Hamas recognize Israel and the Oslo agreements.  At the same time, Egypt pressured Israel not to freeze the VAT and Customs tariffs collected by Israel amounting to some $50 million a month – money that the PA needs in order not to go bankrupt. The PA pays some 150,000 salaries per month including more than 70,000 people in the police force.   The government of Israel made a decision at its weekly meeting on Sunday to freeze the payment for a one week.  The payment was due to be made this week and the PA needed the funds to pay the monthly salaries that were supposed to be paid at the beginning of February.  The Israeli cabinet will re-evaluate the issue on Sunday and is likely to decide to transfer 50% of the money.  The other 50% will be claimed by Israel to pay PA debts to the Israeli electricity company. The payment of PA debts to Israeli public suppliers can be paid from the VAT and customs monies collected by Israel based on a prior agreement between the PA and Israel.  In the past couple of years PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad approved all of the PA debts and agreed to Israel deducting those debts from the monthly transfers. Now, the PA acting Finance Minister Jihad al Wazir will have to approve the payment of the debts.  As long as the system for using the money and for clearing the debts remains in the hands of the caretaker government, the international community is likely to encourage Israel to continue the transfers.  Once there is a new Hamas controlled government in place, the situation is likely to change.


The Israeli-Egyptian dialogue is going to become a permanent and important fixture of regional arrangements in the new Hamas era. Likewise there will be a significant improvement in Jordan-Israel relations and a lot more coordination and cooperation between Israel and its peace partners in Egypt and Jordan.  Other less formal relations between Israel and other Arab states will also improve.  A business delegation from Qatar has been in Israel this past week investigating all kinds of business dealings with Israelis. At the same time a delegation of private sector leaders from Israel and Palestine were in Stockholm hosted by the Swedish Industrialists investigating how the private sector could continue to work together while there will be no contacts between the governments of Israel and the PA. 


Elections in Israel, elections in Palestine


The first polls after the Palestinian elections show almost no immediate impact of the Palestinian elections on the Israeli electorate.  The weekly flux of movement remained the same without any surprises.  Some polls showed an increase in support for Kadima of 1-2 seats while other polls showed a decrease of support in the same volume. Almost all of the polls showed a decline of support for the Likud against the predictions of some of the analysts that the Hamas victory would produce a right wing rise in Israel. 


The Labour party seems to have ended its downward trend although its rise in the polls has not yet happened.  Ehud Barak was dancing with Uzi Dayan, the former national security advisor who formed a party “Tafnit” that according to the polls will not pass the 2% threshold. Dayan was courting Barak to join him, but Barak has decided to stay in Labour with his eyes on a take over after the elections.


Shinui’s leader Tommy Lapid completed the death blow to Shinui by formally announcing his resignation from the Party and by calling to the public not to give their trust to the party.  Shinui MK’s who are staying in the party negotiated a deal with those who are leaving on the division of the campaign funds that they are entitled to.  It is still not clear where the Shinui refugees will end up.  They have until Wednesday next week to submit their list to the central elections committee.  The Shinui refugees were busy searching for a “shelf party” – a political party that is registered but dormant in order to run for the elections.  More news on this next week.


Kadima presented its list of 50 candidates at a ceremony on Tuesday in Jerusalem.  Although highly criticized for a complete lack of internal democracy, the list presented by Olmert was quite interesting with a whole group of new personalities to become members of Knesset.  Many of the new people would never find their way into politics without the opportunity created by Kadima.  In the assessment of many analysts, the quality of the next Knesset will be significantly better than the outgoing Knesset.