The disengagement deal
Is it possible that the settler leaders have struck a kind of unwritten deal with Sharon: They can shout, lie down under the tractors, but let the Gush Katif evacuation go through and the prime minister, meanwhile, will thicken the settlements, turn them into real blocs?
A strange quiet fell over the country. Three and a half months before the disengagement, it seems as if only the newspapers are managing to get excited and create headlines around it - Nitzanim dunes, Palmahim dunes, sharpshooters, demolished synagogues. Every day something new is invented to try to keep alive an issue that seems to have lost its appeal. The public seems to have completely accepted the move, and so does the political arena.
Three and a half months before what is supposedly a decisive moment in the history of the state - some call it the most important event since the Six-Day War - and the country is not in an uproar. At least meanwhile it isn't. The things said by the prime minister in the U.S. about a pre-civil war atmosphere seem disconnected from reality or motivated by the desire to win some sympathy overseas. The mass visits to Gush Katif so far look more like another version of the Boombamela Festival than the start of a violent and dangerous rebellion.
One of the most combative of the settler leaders, Pinchas Wallerstein, has been heard lately on the radio speaking more about the failure of the government, how it only remembered at the last minute that there is nowhere to move the settlers evacuated from Gush Katif, than about the horrifying national catastrophe of evicting Jews from their land.
And let's not forget: At least 21 MKs from the Likud, including Uzi Landau and not including passive opponents of disengagement like Benjamin Netanyahu, remain in a party that is leading that "criminal transfer" of Jews.
Sharon says he doesn't have any plans for Disengagement 2. He says that Beit El and Ofra will remain forever in Israel's hands and that even the hills between Beit Aryeh and Nili in western Samaria, which are right now outside the fence being built there, will be part of Israel in any future arrangement. Sharon is trying to convince the right that he is actually sticking to his old map, the one he has been carrying around since the 1970s: a 10-kilometer strip in western Samaria, metropolitan Jerusalem, Gush Etzion, the Jordan Valley, altogether some 25 percent for Israel, the rest for the Palestinians.
Some right-wingers say they don't believe him. They have a reason to say that. If he evacuates Netzarim, about which he once said that it was the same as Tel Aviv, why shouldn't he evacuate Ofra? But is it possible the settler leaders actually do believe him, that he has struck a kind of unwritten deal with them: You shout, lie down under the tractors, but let the Gush Katif evacuation go through and I, meanwhile, will thicken the settlements, turn them into real blocs?
Remember, even though the phrase "settlement blocs" has entered the lexicon as a phrase, it is, in effect, crumbs of settlements, some large, but nonetheless scattered crumbs. Except for Jerusalem and perhaps Upper Modi'in, there is no real territorial, urban contiguity between the Jewish settlements of the West Bank.
The activity on the ground strengthens that assumption. The area between Alfei Menashe and the Green Line, about six kilometers, is full of construction and massive building plans. In Upper Modi'in (Kiryat Sefer), a new neighborhood is going to be dedicated after Pesach, and the work on the neighborhood is continuing full steam ahead. And Ma'aleh Adumim continues to expand.
Eastward, in the direction of the Dead Sea - and under a Housing Ministry headed by a minister from the Labor Party - a new neighborhood known as Nofei Sela is going up. Westward, toward Jerusalem, the planning work continues on the E-1 area. Most of the plans were underway before the disengagement idea, but they continue to proceed apace.
Benny Kashriel, the mayor of Ma'aleh Adumim and a senior member of the Yesha Council, has in effect adopted "the deal." Kashriel knows that the Americans do not want construction in E-1 or Nofei Sela, but he does not believe Sharon will cave in to them. "I don't believe the Americans will succeed in pressuring him," he says. "If he surrenders, the 240,000 residents of the settlements in the West Bank will join the campaign against the disengagement."
In other words, if this is not a silent agreement, it is a threat to Sharon. Either build and expand the settlement blocs or find all our troops against you. That's why it is possible to read the statement the other way: If you expand the settlements, we won't pull out all the stops against the disengagement. And that seems to be what is happening right now.