Firing at Our Own Forces

The time has come for reevaluation. Perhaps it is time to take a hard line in negotiating with the evacuees-to-be.

In the heat of battle, confusing situations can develop, which make it difficult to distinguish friend from foe. Throughout its history, the Israel Defense Forces has on occasion fired on its own troops because of mistaken identity.

In civilian matters, however, it is doubtful whether there has ever been such confusion as that accompanying the implementation of the disengagement plan.

The heads of the National Security Council and the Disengagement Administration, whom the government has ostensibly put in charge of carrying out the initiative, have sounded completely baffled recently when attempting to describe the task they have been assigned.

Two weeks ago, NSC chief Giora Eiland thought that the state's conduct vis-a-vis the soon-to-be-evacuated settlers was reasonable. Eiland believed that from the outset, carrying out the disengagement plan would put the government at a disadvantage. No matter what, it would be portrayed as though it failed to deliver the goods, or paid an exorbitant price for them. He had reservations about the Disengagement Administration's functioning, but his statements gave a general impression of a mechanism well-prepared for the task.

The NSC admitted that the authorities in charge of the disengagement had made one mistake: They failed to take into consideration the strength of the settlers' refusal to cooperate with the evacuation process. They assumed the settlers would resist being uprooted but did not foresee that their objection would be expressed by severing all contact with those responsible for negotiating over compensation and finding alternative housing and employment for the evacuees.

This is an embarrassing admission from the man in charge of national planning. NSC officials explained that the settlers' obstinacy and the three-month delay in completing the legislation of the Evacuation Compensation Law had created a bottleneck that prevented reaching an agreement with them.

However, on Tuesday Eiland sounded a different note. In a letter to the relevant ministries, he confessed that he himself could not distinguish between the real problems and those stemming from media manipulations of the disengagement process. He warned of the chaotic image reflected by the government's moves regarding the disengagement and recommended an emergency meeting of the heads of the evacuation authorities to reevaluate the situation.

Disengagement Administration chief Yonatan Bassi is in a similar predicament. Two weeks ago, he spoke with confidence of his moves, sounding like he was one managing to navigate his way. Sources in the administration spoke of covert land acquisitions to be offered the settlers within the Green Line. Bassi gave the impression that the process was under control and the negotiations between other bodies and the settlers - for example, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, or Prime Minister's Office director general Ilan Cohen - were coordinated with the administration.

However, a few days later Bassi responded with alarm to the prime minister's instruction to purchase more than NIS 200 million worth of deluxe mobile homes. His protest was an embarrassing admission that the Disengagement Administration was not in control of the situation and that the bypass communication routes stretching from the PMO to the settlers had been concealed from him.

Eiland, Bassi and the rest of the senior officials are doing the best they can. The chaos derives from the prime minister's behavior and the settlers' reaction. Ariel Sharon is ignoring the plans and recommendations drafted by the professionals he himself appointed, and consequently he is hindering the plan's implementation. He is assuming that improvisations and impromptu increases in benefits will crack the settlers' resistance.

The time has come for reevaluation. Perhaps it is time to take a hard line in negotiating with the evacuees-to-be.