A few days after the murder of Rehavam Ze'evi, the editor of the right-wing publication, Nekudah, Uri Elitzur, posted an article under the title "Over Gandhi's grave, I ask for forgiveness" on the Web site of the settlers' radio station, Arutz Sheva.
"The Palestinians," he wrote, "are unflinchingly confronting us with the totally unrealistic demand for the right of return by agreement. They are telling us, the world and themselves that not only will the wheels of time be turned back to when there was no Jewish state, but that we will do so by consent. They know that this is completely unrealistic, but are insisting on it shamelessly."
Elitzur asks if having this notion means that the Palestinians are moonstruck and insane, and then replies in the negative. He believes that their insistence is slowly but surely making their demand more realistic and suggests confronting "their unrealistic demand" with "an unrealistic demand of our own, and in the opposite direction."
Elitzur, the man who managed the bureau of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for two years, continues: "If we were serious and knew how to play on the political field of the Middle East, we should have confronted the Palestinian demand for the right of return with the transfer argument a long time ago, and in all seriousness. They say they have the right to return to their homes; and we say this is the land of our forefathers and the Arabs are inhabiting it as the result of an illegal occupation .... Yossi Beilin can hint to reporters that in return for an absolute Palestinian waiving of the right of return, it would be possible to get a partial forgoing of the demand for a transfer from me."
In conclusion, Elitzur, who, in 1995, joined a delegation of settlers who met with leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization, does indeed make it clear that he adopted an absurd approach to the issue, but admits nevertheless that "we are allowed to learn something about tactics and strategy from our enemies," noting: "Tactically, it is a mistake to be a pragmatist and propose only realistic solutions.... In the face of a far-reaching demand on the part of the rival, you must pose a far-reaching demand of your own. In such a manner, you may meet in the middle."
In recent months, the words of Elitzur, the pragmatist, have emerged as a watershed with regard to the transfer notion. The discourse among the right wing is exposing more and more public figures who had distanced themselves from the transfer concept prior to the assassination of Ze'evi, but are now willing to stand behind it, even if they don't explicitly use the word itself.
Some, like Elitzur, speak of the notion as a tactic, while others raise the issue on the backdrop of a worldview based on a concept of reward and punishment. We are dealing with a process that began earlier, has now matured and cannot be easily disconnected from the intifada; and the issues come to light primarily in the words of rabbis, as voiced from various podiums.
Take, for example, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner - the head of the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva, the rabbi of the Beit El settlement and renowned, inter alia, for a series of halakhic ruling that have also sanctified the Gentile as an individual created in the image of God. "There is a need to exhaust a solution of peace," he says, "but if this is not possible, as we see now, and blood is being spilled for the most part ... there is no other choice ... Gentiles have a place in Israel only if they honor the laws of the state, as is the practice in every country in the world. But if they busy themselves with killing, their place is in one of the 22 nearby Arab states."
In an effort perhaps to soften his words, Rabbi Aviner clarifies that his viewpoint is symmetrical: "Indeed, it is not known whether Jewish communities in an Arab state threw stones at the residents of that state or planted explosive devices there, but if such a scenario were to take place, it would be a moral act on the part of that same state to send them to the Land of Israel."
Rabbi Aviner's statements were published prior to Ze'evi's murder, and then reappeared following the killing, in the latest edition of the Mabat Hofshi journal.
An article by Rabbi Zalman Melamed, who heads the Yesha Council of Rabbis, contends that the past decades have shown that many of the Arabs do not accept our sovereignty over the country and are even cooperating with the murderous terrorists. In light of this, Melamed concludes, "they are transgressing the two rules of a Gentile resident" - "preserving the seven commandments of the sons of Noah and faith in the God of Israel, with acceptance of the absolute sovereignty of the people of Israel over its land, in keeping with the commandment of the Torah."
In his article, Rabbi Melamed presents the three main opinions with regard to the ban on Gentiles residing in the Land of Israel. First and foremost, he says, "we must deport those who hate us from our land," adding: "Regrettably, the State of Israel abandoned the Arab population to the regime of murderous gangs that we brought here and armed. Therefore, only after we deport all those who are openly identified with the war against us, from all parts of the country, will we be able to offer the population that remains the choice of living here in accordance with the moral and legal principles of the heritage of Israel that were determined for a Gentile resident, or to emigrate to another country."
Rabbi Melamed clarifies that his statements are valid when it comes to limited conflicts, adding, "In war, the rules are different: Each person is not seen as an individual; instead, we relate to the general society that is fighting against us; and then ... the rules of `they will not settle in your land' change. Under such circumstances, the entire population must be deported, and only those who are known to have supported us in practice must stay."
"If we undauntedly declare this already today," he notes, "we will achieve more deterrence and move ourselves closer to the stage at which we will be able to deport those who hate us."
Deterrence is also at the basis of the ideas published in Ha'aretz by Rabbi Yisrael Rozen, the head of the Tsomet Institute in the Katif Bloc. Rozen suggests taking retaliatory action against the families of suicide attackers, the families of those who send them on their missions and their entire extended families, proposing such punishments as deportations, the confiscation of property and even the razing of entire villages.
Moledet leader and Tourism Minister Binyamin Elon also speaks of the transfer notion from a tactical point of view. "We already had a transfer during the War of Independence," he says, adding that he is not quite sure how much of it was planned, how much was the result of the war and how much stemmed from the ensuing mood in the country. "The fact is that there was the general sense that the Jewish nation was fighting its war of independence and existence and that it had to make demographic and geographic changes here. In 1948, the world accepted this sense.
"The point is creating the mood - whether it is realistic or unrealistic can be argued afterward. I say that if the issue is not placed on the negotiating table as an option, if it is not raised as a possibility in the consciousness of public opinion, the starting point for everyone is completely different."
Elon admits that he views the notion of transfer by consent as a "tactic - because it is not realistic," saying that he is always told that he, too, will sit down to negotiate after dealing a crushing blow to the Palestinian Authority.
"Yes," he says, "but not as in all the other wars, when we were victorious like lions, and then fell like flies. I propose conducting negotiations like lions, and my starting point will be a transfer by agreement. Had I been at the Madrid conference, I would have raised it as my opening position. I have raised it more than once in private talks with foreign statesmen, and they were astounded. They don't know the facts, and they listen."
And if the notion of a transfer by agreement, per se, is unrealistic, Alon says, then a voluntary transfer is very realistic. "A voluntary transfer is an educational process of a nation in a struggle... If I had the power, I would establish a ministry for the encouragement of emigration across from the American consulate in Jerusalem. I would ensure the provision to Arabs who wanted to emigrate of visas and good terms, as well as land mediation - to purchase the land from them, not covertly, but willingly, in a voluntary atmosphere."
Settler leader Elyakim Haetzni suggests enforcing Clause 11 of the Citizenship Law, which stipulates that any subversive citizen will be deported from the country by the interior minister, while reserve Brigadier General Effi (Fein) Eitam, the hope of the national-religious camp, speaks of the transfer notion from a different perspective, writing: "The national aspirations of the Palestinian residents in Judea and Samaria must be directed toward the areas to be given to the Palestinians across the Jordan [River]."
Eitam believes that responsibility for the existence of the Jewish nation requires us to deal with demographics. "We must bring many children into the world, and many immigrants," he says, even going as far as to add that perhaps the contribution of the ultra-Orthodox to the state from a demographic point of view balances out the criticism against them for not sharing the load of military service.
The supporters of the transfer notion among the right wing are still in the minority, but it is a minority that is gradually growing. A number of settler leaders met recently to discuss coming out in support of the notion, and not as a tactical step, but eventually rejected the idea, fearing that it would backfire. "In a state of war as is the case today," says one of the settler leaders, "I have no moral problem with a transfer; but if I say this, I will be losing the strongest card we have against the evacuation of Jewish settlements."