Corridors of Power / A Cease-fire Is Still a Long Shot

The conclusion that emerged from discussions in the offices of the prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister yesterday was that this week's reports of the demise of Palestinian violence were premature.

1. Premature reports

The conclusion that emerged from discussions in the offices of the prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister yesterday was that this week's reports of the demise of Palestinian violence were premature. Those reports originated partly with Nabil Sha'ath (who was in Luxembourg), partly from the Muqata in Ramallah and partly from the Hamas leaders in Gaza. Each was intended to serve a different Palestinian interest, but none proved true: Terror continued to strike at Israel and to preclude the initiation of the road map.

When Abu Mazen's people leaked word that a cease-fire agreement with Hamas was imminent, they were seeking to placate the United States. The optimistic reports that came from Arafat's direction were meant to enhance his status in the eyes of the American administration. And when similar intimations came from the Hamas leadership, the aim was to rebuff the threat of an imposed accord. As of yesterday, the hudna (temporary cease-fire) idea seemed way ahead of its time: In the present situation, the Palestinian Authority is either not capable or not desirous of taking the measures necessary to reach a cease-fire - let alone a substantial enough pause in the violence to lead to a dismantling of the terror infrastructure, which is the condition Israel and the U.S. are demanding Abu Mazen meet before the road map can start to be implemented.

Dov Weisglass, the prime minister's bureau chief, returned from a brief trip to Washington feeling reassured that the understanding between the two countries regarding the aforementioned condition was perfectly intact. He came away with the impression that the Bush administration is close to losing patience with Abu Mazen's tentativeness and his reluctance to impose his authority on Hamas (which has also been evident in the contacts between Mohammed Dahlan and Major General Amos Gilad). Israel believes that if the Palestinian prime minister were to convincingly threaten to confront the militant organizations with force, he would immediately achieve their cooperation; that it is his weakness that is enabling them to scoff at him and at the road map's international patrons.

Weisglass' assessments are questioned by a number of ministers, including Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. They say he misjudged things throughout the negotiations with the U.S. over the road map, and they wonder if he is mistaken now, too. They discern a readiness on his part to accept a cease-fire declaration even without a pledge from Abu Mazen to begin dismantling the terror infrastructure immediately afterward, and think they might be sensing an echo of an American inclination to show more flexibility over this first essential condition of the road map.

Officially, Israel continues to demand immediate action from the PA to dismantle the terror infrastructure, but, unofficially, it may be willing to wait a few weeks (not six months, as Abu Mazen asked for at first) between the declaration of a cease-fire and the start of real action to disarm the terror organizations. Officially, Israel continues to propose that the Palestinians take responsibility for ensuring quiet in the Gaza Strip (or parts of it), making clear that, if this is not done, Israel will continue to operate as it sees fit within the PA in order to prevent terror attacks; unofficially, Israel will take into consideration American expectations that it refrain from operations like the botched assassination attempt on Abdel Aziz Rantisi.

2. Hever's exhortations

Ze'ev Hever (Zambish), who for many years worked hand in hand with Ariel Sharon to build settlements - sometimes right under the nose of successive Israeli governments, told his friends in the Yesha Council of Jewish settlements (in the West Bank and Gaza) that Sharon's attitude toward the outposts has undergone a serious change and that they must lose no time in fighting back. Hever was quoted as saying that Sharon has lost control of the process set in motion by the road map and that the prime minister's greatest desire at this time is to please President Bush. The defense establishment tried to reach an understanding with Hever for the peaceful and symbolic evacuation of one of the illegal outposts in return for the allotment of alternative land - a procedure that was in regular use between Sharon and the settler leaders - but this time Hever turned down the offer.

Hever told the Yesha Council leaders this week that, given where Sharon's head is now, after the first round of dismantling illegal outposts, they can expect a second round and then a third - as much as it takes to satisfy the Americans. He was essentially warning that not only are the "illegal" outposts slated for evacuation, but also regular settlements, including some of the older and very well-established ones. Therefore, he urged them - and the settler public - to wage a struggle over every settlement, no matter how tiny or remote. Some settlers took his exhortations to heart: At Amona North, they erected a water tower in place of the one removed by the Israel Defense Forces; the "hilltop youth" overtook sites that had been evacuated; and settler groups initiated legal proceedings to prevent, or at least postpone, the dismantling of the outposts. Even some veteran settlers were amused by the spectacle of flaunters of the law from Yesha resorting to the High Court of Justice to fight the government's order.

The significance of this seeming turning point in Sharon's attitude toward the settlements still hasn't sunk in with all of the public beyond the Green Line; the settler leadership has not been able to get its constituents to share its level of concern. Efforts made this week to engage the settler public in the battle against Sharon's new policy did not elicit the hoped-for response. The prime minister's meeting with the Yesha Council leaders was just a small forum, and the impressions the leaders took with them from that meeting have yet to trickle down throughout Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The atmosphere at the meeting was charged - Sharon was ill at ease, the settler leaders grew increasingly worried as the prime minister elaborated on his position, and they left feeling like they'd just emerged from divorce court.

Meanwhile, the National Religious Party (NRP) has so far been reacting rather complacently to Sharon's recent decisions. Party chairman Effi Eitam maintained this week that the Yesha Council expects his party to remain in the coalition and to fight "from the inside" to ensure the well-being of the settlement enterprise. Eitam believes the road map is doomed to fail because Palestinian terror will not cease. Unlike Ze'ev Hever, Eitam feels Sharon will be very wary of crossing the red line drawn by the opposition within his party and his government. He does not foresee the prime minister evacuating well- established outposts and settlements.

Eitam justifies his equanimity regarding Sharon's moves this way: The outposts slated for evacuation are those that were erected from the outset for this purpose - as a way to relieve American pressure on Sharon; Sharon is not undertaking the dismantling of outposts as part of a process of dialogue with the PA, but as an element of Israel-U.S. relations. And at any rate, Sharon promises there will not be a "massive" removal of outposts, and he is taking the NRP's position into account - as evidenced by his speech this week in the Knesset, which was reviewed by his coalition partners and did not contain any sensitive terms like "occupation," "outposts" or even "road map" (which was only mentioned in connection with plenum voting procedures).

This week, Effi Eitam was sure no cease-fire would be declared, and confident this prediction of his would be confirmed just like other ones he has made. He believes Palestinian society is so immersed in a culture of violence it will be at least several years before it can possibly emerge from it. Therefore, the hudna idea will not get anywhere and the NRP will be able to keep on serving the country as part of the government.

3. The Zionist dream fulfilled

Who is Dvir Kahana? This writer managed to have a brief phone conversation with him the other day, but Kahana cut it short, saying he was in the middle of a meeting. Repeated attempts to contact him got no further than the answering machine. Dvir Kahana is key to the following story, but the gist of it may be told even without his cooperation.

About a month and a half ago, a man going by the name of Dvir Kahana appeared in Mazmoriya, which is between Jerusalem and Beit Sahur. Mazmoriya is the Roman name of the area upon which a small village called Na'man (population 250, with 25 families) was founded 150 years ago. The first residents, from the Ta'amra clan, lived in caves and tents, but permanent structures were added in the 1920s. After the Six-Day War, the village was ostensibly annexed within the borders of the Jerusalem Municipality, but the seeds of the first paradox were planted at the same time: Since the village was so tiny, all of its residents were registered under the address of the mukhtar, who lived in the next village, which was not included within the boundaries of unified Jerusalem.

In 1992, 25 years after the annexation of East Jerusalem, residents of Na'man were instructed to convert their blue identity cards (indicating Israeli residency) to orange ones. Their children (about 70 in number) were no longer eligible to attend Jerusalem municipal schools in nearby Umm Tuba; since then, they've had to attend school in Beit Sahur or Bethlehem. The Jerusalem Municipality cut off the water supply to Na'man, but when the village got hooked up to the PA's water system, the Israeli authorities found ways to wreck the pipes.

Bezeq does not connect them to the Israeli telephone system, but when telephone poles were erected to connect them to the PA's phone system, Israel saw to it that the poles were knocked down. The Jerusalem Municipality sued village resident Nidal Darawi for an illegal building addition, but he was unable to make it to court because he did not have a blue Israeli ID card. Because of his failure to appear, he was classified as a "wanted man" - which caused him to be stopped at the checkpoint when he tried to get to court for another scheduled appearance. The way things are going, Na'man looks to become the fulfillment of the Zionist dream of annexing a piece of "empty" land.

Life was already hard for the villagers before the outbreak of the intifada. Then they discovered that their unique status brought with it another cost: The roads to the village from Jerusalem were blocked with impassable dirt barriers. The only way to get there now is on foot. Things only got worse when they saw that the separation fence under construction on the outskirts of the village is being built in such a way that it will cut them off from Jerusalem as well as from Palestinian territory. No gates are planned for this section of the fence, which means the residents of Na'man will eventually be trapped within a veritable ghetto. The fence will also divide another nearby village from its cemetery. And as if that wasn't enough, it looks like the road being paved between the settlement of Nokdim and the Har Homa neighborhood will have to go through some of Na'man's farmland.

Dvir Kahana came to Na'man in late March to try to resolve the paradoxes.

4. The annexation paradox

According to Na'man residents, Dvir Kahana told them he was there on behalf of the Defense Ministry, the Housing Ministry and the Moriah company (the Jerusalem Municipality's development company) and explained that the village was due to be evacuated. He was accompanied by four Border Police officers and started writing down the names and ID numbers of the village's homeowners. The residents say he told them that the separation fence will hem them in on all sides, and as they are officially residents of the PA, they will have to move into its territory. They say he mentioned in passing that he heard Israel was going to expel them. In a second meeting about two weeks after that, Kahana pulled out what he said was the evacuation decree and offered $25,000 for every house that was willingly vacated.

The main explanation he gave them was that they were residing illegally on an open, green space belonging to the city of Jerusalem, in an area where construction was not permitted. He was not dissuaded by all of the documentation they showed him attesting to the village's continuous presence in this location for 150 years (including some 80-year-old houses). He said he was willing to compensate anyone living in a house built before 1992 (when the Jerusalem Municipality imposed a building freeze on the village), but not anyone who violated the law by building a house after that.

When they protested and spoke of their attachment to their land, Kahana suggested they sell their land to Palestinian straw men, with whom he would subsequently deal.

For whom does Dvir Kahana work? Two days ago, the Defense Ministry insisted that he does not work for them. The Housing Ministry also said it has no one by that name on its roster of employees. Apparently, he was sent by a company that received a concession from the Housing Ministry to operate in the Mazmoriya area. It's not clear how he came by the Border Police escort for his two visits to the village. In any case, he managed to deeply worry the village elders and residents. Yusuf Darawi, a contractor who has been unemployed for some time due to the situation, and his cousin Jamal Darawi, a clerk for the PA in Ramallah, were little children in 1967. They grew up amid all the absurdities that define the village's life. And it's not just a matter of bureaucratic distinctions; it's all translated into daily hardships that make life exceedingly difficult and imperil their ability to keep living in their place of birth.

Ta'ayush, an organization for Jewish-Arab coexistence, which is trying to help their cause, describes the Israeli actions here as "quiet transfer."

B'Tselem - the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Territories, which is also investigating the matter, says the designated route of the separation fence in the Mazmoriya area is a flagrant example of "Israel's systematic disregard for the Palestinians' human rights."

The lessons of this story are also paradoxical: If you were to ask Na'man residents privately which they would prefer - an orange ID card or a blue one - many would probably choose to be annexed to Jerusalem and not to the PA; and even when Israel takes a clearly defensive step - building a fence - along the municipal boundaries of (united) Jerusalem, it ends up perpetrating mind-boggling acts of injustice and foolishness.