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A reawakening of the transfer movement is an indication of increasing distress among the settlers. After all, Arafat's close associates have recently been admitting that the transition from the political channel to a violent uprising was a mistake. The protest over the meeting of the prime minister with Arafat's emissaries exposes fears in the extreme right that these might be a renewal of negotiations. A recent article on the Web site of the Council of Jewish Settlements of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District (Yesha Council) said there is no reason to fear that a dismantling of the Palestinian Authority (PA) will lead to the rule of Hamas. Those who oppose the treaty that mandates handing over the territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in exchange for peace prefer that Israel confront an entity that is also opposed to the treaty.

In articles published in Israeli and U.S. newspapers by Sari Nusseibeh, Marwan Barghouti, Muhmad Dahlan and PA Chairman Arafat himself, there is a clear effort to convince the Israeli public that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is faithful to the principle of two states for two peoples. The Palestinian leadership seems finally to have understood that talk about the "right of return" to Haifa and Jaffa served as a balm to the residents of West Bank settlements such as Ofra and Itamar. The Israeli fear of millions of refugees and of terrorist attacks in the heart of Israel saved the settlers the expense of billboards declaring "Yesha is here."

The penetration of terror into Israeli territory and the entry of settlers like [Tourism Minister] Benny Elon and [National Infrastructures Minister] Avigdor Lieberman into the Sharon-Peres government paved the way for the disciples of Gush Emunim, the settlers' movement, into the heart of the matter. Those who live with the feeling that the entire country is a front forget for which territories and for the sake of which people we are fighting. In an open letter to former prime minister Menachem Begin, published in Ha'aretz in March 1980, and entitled "The homeland is in danger," renowned historian Jacob Talmon wrote: "Instead of a nation which has just now been reborn, instead of a strong and proud nation that has just joined the family of nations, we are seeing before our eyes a return to the patterns of thought and action characteristic of an isolated, exilic religious sect. The nature of a sect is to remain at the margins of history and to relate to the environment with an attitude of `don't bother us, and don't do us any favors': We live our lives, we don't interfere in your affairs, and don't you interfere in ours. But such a sect is capable of being an armed sect, which fights with modern technological means like the race of masters."

When Talmon wrote this angry prophecy, no more than 17,000 Jews lived in the occupied territories (fewer than 1,000 in the Gaza Strip). They didn't remain at the margins of history, nor did they become an armed sect. Their numbers grew tenfold, thanks to Israelis who love green lawns, and armed soldiers, who guard the race of masters (as they were called by the head of the Civil Administration, Brigadier General Dov Tzedaka), at the expense of the living space of the "natives." It's true that despite all the benefits, the total number of residents of the settlements is equal to the natural increase of the Palestinians over two years; in 1980 they numbered 840,000 (excluding East Jerusalem), and now the Palestinians number more than three million.

Creeping annexation was the reason for the outbreak of the first intifada in the 1980s. The continuation of settlement development and the paving of roads in the territories during the "peace process" are still undermining Palestinian faith in Israel's intention to end the occupation. They don't imagine that most of the Jewish residents are begging to be rescued from Samaria and the Jordan Valley, and that fewer than 30,000 of the approximately 100,000 families living in the settlements went for ideological reasons.

The objection must come from among the settlers who do not belong to the sect about which Talmon warned. They, and not the soldiers, must demand their release from serving in the territories. The price in blood and money of bringing them back home will be cheaper than the price of leaving them where they are. Then it will become clear that the sect that boasted of raising the flag of modern Zionism has become bankrupt, and has become the greatest threat to the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.