He's uprooting for them
It's a hologram, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "unilateral disengagement plan" - now you see it, but when you extend a hand to touch it, there is nothing there.
It's a hologram, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "unilateral disengagement plan" - now you see it, but when you extend a hand to touch it, there is nothing there. Shas MK Eli Yishai says that Sharon is "determined" to implement the plan, Labor Party MK Shimon Peres says that he is "serious" and the Likud government ministers have each, individually, formed the impression that he is both determined and serious.
But since his Herzliya speech in December of this year, Sharon has thrown spanner after spanner into the works of his own plan. Thus far not a single instruction has been given, for example, for the deployment of the Ministry of Housing prior to the withdrawal, not to mention Sharon's visit to Washington, the date of which is still unknown. And now, after the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, it is not clear how, if at all, and when the plan will be approved by the government and implemented.
The first attempt on the life of Sheikh Yassin, which failed, came after the publication of David Spector's recordings of the prime minister's two sons on September 4 and 5, 2003 in the mass circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth. In them (Likud MK) Omri Sharon related that contrary to what his father had told the State Comptroller, his father had indeed traveled abroad to raise funds ("He collects money ... I need receipts ... It's necessary to speak quietly"). And furthermore, Gilad Sharon spoke about how he was trying to get money out of contractor David Appel even though the "Greek island" project, on which he served as a consultant, looked unrealistic ("Astonishing in size, unfathomable. One hundred thousand rooms. Totally unrealistic.").
The night after the publication of the latter recording, on Saturday, September 6, the Israel Defense Forces tried to assassinate Sheikh Yassin. The attempt was unsuccessful. The second attempt, early this Monday, prevented Sharon from failing in a no-confidence vote in the Knesset, two days before the Knesset broke for its long recess.
Yehoshua Mor-Yosef, the political secretary of the Yesha (Hebrew acronym for Judea, Samaria and Gaza) Council, sounded confused this week. Like other Yesha heads, he wanted Sharon to take a battering in the Knesset. A loss in a vote of no- confidence was supposed to have been the first domino in the undermining of Sharon's coalition. However, he was pleased about the assassination of Sheikh Yassin.
Since January, Mor-Yosef and his colleagues have been acting, more so than the Labor Party and Meretz, to undermine Sharon's coalition: first through huge paid announcements in the newspapers, thereafter through their lobby in the Knesset and also in daily conversations to persuade the National Religious Party and the National Union. Week after week. To their surprise, time after time Sharon has been saved in the Knesset with the generous help of the opposition.
"In none of the no-confidence votes has the opposition turned out in full force," complains Mor-Yosef. "Once because of United Torah Judaism, once because of Shas, once because of the Labor Party. They've driven us crazy. We managed to convince (Knesset Members) Aryeh Eldad and Uri Ariel of the National Union to vote in favor of the no-confidence, but (Labor Party whip MK) Dalia Itzik did not manage to bring all her MKs. In the last vote, we had a respectable number of MKs from the Likud who promised to be absent from the vote, but then someone fired the missile in Gaza that hit Yassin and saved Sharon."
Sharon is the toughest and most determined foe that the Yesha Council has confronted to date. A foe whose moves are hard to predict, who thinks like they do, who stood behind them for years and about whom it is difficult to know whether he intends to carry out his disengagement plan or whether it is a hoax. And with all this, there is no organization in the state of Israel that works the way the Yesha Council does. When they embark on a struggle, it is hard to resist them.
If in the past the Yesha Council heads made use of the services of Eyal Arad and Motti Morel, two advertisers and campaign consultants, by now they know how to work on their own. Backed by surveys by the Teleseker company that examined what frightens the public most (terror attacks) and who influences it most (the army), they embarked on a campaign that costs a fortune, funded in part by the local councils of the Jewish settlements in the territories, under the slogan "The Israel Defense Forces Warn: Uprooting Settlements is a Victory for Terror." This slogan aims at making a connection between the withdrawal plan, which the majority of the public supports, and the terror attacks, of which the public is afraid.
Three focus groups of Likud voters were convened, surveys were conducted and it was decided that it is necessary to let the IDF win: The chief of staff, the GOC central command, the head of military intelligence and any military figure who has hinted at his reservations about the disengagement plan have been prominently cited.
The intersections in Israel have already been plastered with these placards and yeshiva students are handing out propaganda material that will warn the Israeli public, in advance of the Passover holiday, against the withdrawal. Yeshiva students, whose studies are funded by the state, will invade the parking lots during the Passover vacation to hand out special fans for barbecues that bear the slogan "Israel does not want to be fanned away."
Before that there will a pre-holiday toast ceremony at the Gelilot Junction, in the presence of Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and about 17 Likud Knesset members, at which members of the Likud central committee will be invited to express their opposition to the disengagement plan.
And on Independence Day a huge rally be held in Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip under the heading "Loyalty Oath," at which participants will commit themselves to physically preventing the evacuation.
Only one thing is being held up at the moment: the publication of an eight-minute DVD, in which an imaginary kindergarten in Netzarim is seen turning into an Islamic Jihad kindergarten that is churning out the next generation of martyrs, and another scene of a synagogue in Kfar Darom that turns into Hamas mosque. The reason for the delay: On the DVD there is a scene of Sheikh Yassin smiling at his disciples. "It's boring without Yassin," Mor-Yosef admitted this week.
As opposed to the hyperactivity of the Yesha Council, the people of the Geneva initiative put on a show of a "virtual demonstration" on the Internet. "If you haven't got a babysitter, you don't need to come to Tel Aviv" was one of the slogans. Instead of demonstrating in the streets, perspiring and trying to persuade the Jews, it is possible to surf at home, alone, on the Internet and express solidarity with the Geneva initiative.
This was the idea of advertiser Dror Sternschuss, which cost a lot of money and is aimed only at people who are hooked up to the Internet. The Yesha Council plans to inundate the roads in advance of the holiday and the heads of the movement that is identified with Yossi Beilin decide that it is best to demonstrate from home.
At the Yesha Council, however, not only are they trying to persuade the masses, who are more afraid now than ever of mega-terror attacks, but they are also planning for the possibility that Sharon will want, as a plane ticket to Washington, to evacuate a few outposts. After the High Court of Justice rejected an appeal against the evacuation of outposts with an accelerated order, the door was opened to doing what Sharon has been promising to do for several months now. Promising and not doing. At the Yesha Council they see the evacuation of outposts as a dress rehearsal for evacuating Jewish settlements in the territories.
And in order to prevent Shas from joining the government, they have started to pound on the door of the court of Shas leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Reserve military personnel, among them Yom-Tov Samia, formerly the GOC central command; Yaakov Amidror, who was the deputy head of the research division at military intelligence and retired chief of staff Dan Shomron are candidates for audiences with Rabbi Yosef to persuade him to oppose the disengagement plan. Samia and Amidror are acquainted with the rabbi and have met with him, but at the Yesha Council they especially want Dan Shomron to be the one to persuade Rabbi Yosef to oppose Sharon's plan.
Is Sharon at all able to evacuate outposts in the new situation that has been created by the assassination of Sheikh Yassin? In any case, even if Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz decide to do this, the settler leadership, which represents 3 percent of the population but enjoys a strong lobby and an unlimited budget, will dictate the agenda both on the streets and on the barren hillsides.
Netanyahu yes and no
For anyone who is looking for a typical Benjamin Netanyahu story - here it is. Anyone who is looking for a typical Yesha Council story will also find it here. This week the Yesha Council published an announcement of support for Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's position on Sharon's disengagement plan. "The Yesha Council congratulates Minister Netanyahu on his statement this evening on Channel 2, whereby he is opposed to Sharon's uprooting plan. And if the three conditions that he has posited for the plan are fulfilled in full, he will be prepared to support it," said the announcement.
This statement was born after Netanyahu said at a meeting of the Likud ministers on Sunday this week that he supports the disengagement plan, but posits three conditions for it. The day after his statement was reported, Likud ministers were quoted as saying that Netanyahu is acting like a "dishrag." The day after that, there were contacts between Netanyahu's people and the Yesha Council people and Netanyahu was interviewed on Channel 2. In this interview Netanyahu changed one semantic detail: Instead of saying that he supports the plan but demands that the three conditions he posited be fulfilled, he said that he was opposed to the plan unless the three conditions are fulfilled.
Netanyahu can always say that he said the same thing. Supports or opposes, it makes no difference; what is important is that the three conditions he posited be fulfilled, and presumably Sharon will not succeed in fulfilling them all, and if he does succeed in doing the unbelievable then the Yesha Council will oppose the disengagement plan anyway, with or without the three conditions.
It's a strange political party, Shinui. It is the third largest party in the country, even according to the latest surveys, and it acts like a small party. A party that has made integrity its motto, but has unusual rules about maintaining its own internal democracy.
On May 14, elections will be held in Shinui for the party council and the secretariats of its branches. The Shinui council is the party's supreme body, which determines policy and selects the candidates for the Knesset. These elections will be held by mail.
A few weeks ago, Shinui members received forms, envelopes and a message from the chairman of the elections committee, MK Reshef Chayne, asking them to mail to the party's elections committee the forms on which they will have designated their candidates for the Shinui council and for the branch to which the particular member belongs.
One member of Shinui relates that he received several envelopes, for himself and for members of his family. Under this method of elections, he says, he could vote in the name of his entire "clan." If one of the members of his family is abroad, he could vote in his stead. If one of the members of his family has passed away, heaven forbid, and his death has not yet been registered at the Interior Ministry, he could also vote on his behalf. This method, says the party member, makes it easy to finagle all kinds of deals.
According to the Shinui regulations (Provision 13 A), the voting for the party branches "will be conducted by mail, unless the council decides to hold the elections in some other way." These regulations have not been changed, even after Shinui won 15 seats in the Knesset and its head was appointed minister of justice. In Shinui they are still electing the members of the party's highest institution not behind a curtain and in a secret ballot, but through the Israel Postal Service.