Settlers for Sale

Hisdai Eliezer, head of the Alfei Menashe local council, says he is not perturbed by the evacuation-compensation law in the works. The separation fence puts the settlement on the "right" side, and its short distance from the Green Line ensures the law will not entice residents of his community to move to a new apartment, 12 kilometers away, in Kfar Sava.

Alfei Menashe is in an enclave considered a "settlement bloc," eligible to be annexed to Israel. What concerns the former deputy chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements is the fate of more than 80,000 of his Jewish neighbors on the other side of the fence. At a seminar held by Labor Party and Meretz-Yahad supporters in Tel Aviv last weekend, Eliezer said he was most afraid that the bill, initiated by MKs Avshalom Vilan (Meretz) and Colette Avital (Labor), would be very successful. He believes more families will seek compensation than the leftists imagine - 70 percent or more of the 85,000 settlers who live outside the "blocs."

This veteran public figure is well-versed in settlers' lives. He said he has no doubt that if the residents of Ariel are offered generous compensation, the only thing remaining in the capital of Samaria will be its academic center. He estimates that more than half of the residents of Ariel are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and that they are as interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the settlement movement as they are in the snows of yesteryear. He is convinced the bill will turn Ma'aleh Ephraim and other "quality of life" settlements - where the homes have become worthless investments due to the intifada - into ghost towns.

He knows of people who, 10 years ago, broke into houses in the neighboring settlement of Neveh Menahem. After negotiations, they agreed to pay $30,000 to $40,000 per unit. It was a bargain, on the face of it. But then the separation fence arrived, giving them a wait of half an hour or more every morning at an Israel Defense Forces roadblock. Eliezer says that if these people are offered alternative housing on the other side of the fence, they will pack their suitcases within an hour.

Vilan says that even though the population in question is 10 times bigger than the Israeli community was in Gaza, evacuation-compensation in the West Bank will cost less than it did in Gaza. This, of course, depends on whether the government has learned from its mistakes. This time it won't have to compensate the settlers for their farmland and factories - it can just offer them alternative housing and a modest sum for an adjustment period, for a total of NIS 8 billion - a sum NIS 2 billion less than Gaza cost. If the move starts immediately, the sum could be budgeted over five years. Eliezer asked Vilan's activists at the gathering what they would say to an evacuation-compensation law for the residents of Umm al-Fahm. "What's wrong?" he asked. "If we can show the world that every Jew can be bought for money, like a prostitute, what would you do if [philanthropist Arcadi] Gaydamak were to offer every settler who agrees to remain in his house a dollar and a half for every dollar your law offers him?"

Self-fulfilling prophecy

Even a few remarks like those made in the film "A Million Bullets in October" - an investigative report about how the second intifada came about that was broadcast on Channel 8 last Saturday - would have shaken a normal democratic country to its very foundation. On the eve of renewing negotiations on a final status agreement, director Moish Goldberg accused the top military brass of charges unparalleled in their seriousness. The charge: Deliberately undermining the peace process with the Palestinians while blatantly violating the political authorities' instructions. The witnesses: Very senior government officials and army officers. Commissions of inquiry have been set up, lessons have (or have not) been learned and people have been fired for less serious, less damaging offenses.

The film claimed the affair was buried under political declarations that there was "no partner." The serious phenomenon of an army against the spirit of the political echelon still exists. It is enough to mention the prime minister's repeated commitments to the Palestinian president that pressure on the West Bank's civilian population will be alleviated, and to compare that to the actual situation. The main stars of October 2000 are still active in the decision-making arena: then-prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak, and then-chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, who both are in the political and defense cabinet and aspire to take over the premiership.

Here are a few especially harsh testimonies from the film (with editing corrections): Prof. Shlomo Ben-Ami, who was then foreign minister and headed the negotiating team: "Mofaz said at a cabinet meeting that [Clinton's proposed Middle east peace plan] endangered the existence of the State of Israel. He also said this on the radio. In another country, this would almost be called a putsch. What do you say? Do you have the right to address the public? As chief of staff? And what will be in the next stage - will he send out the tanks? He was not prepared to provide maps for diplomatic discussions. We were running around the world and making this concession, while the army's top brass believed that first and foremost it had to make an imprint on the consciousness, that they had to get a beating. These are decisive things."

Ephraim Sneh, then deputy defense minister: "I wrote to Barak to say that in the field, the army - from the chief of staff down to the commanders at the roadblocks - was carrying out a policy opposed to his policy, and that if he did not take swift action, the results would be irreversible. Israeli prime ministers do not really consider themselves the commander in chief of the army, but rather someone who serves it. There were two parallel lines here - political-diplomatic policy, and military behavior.

"I told Barak, '[Marwan] Barghouti is the leader of the street, so let's speak to him'. Barak said, 'I don't mind if you meet with him, but Dichter must approve it.' The prime minister telling the deputy defense minister to get approval for a diplomatic meeting from the Shin Bet security service head. Dichter was opposed.

"The OC Southern Command at the time, Yom Tov Samia, told Knesset members, 'No one will tell me how to win this war.' In this kind of confrontation, the government's policy becomes insignificant. Government policy is set by a platoon commander, or even by what was once known in the army as 'the strategic corporal.'"

Gilad Sher, Barak's chief of staff and representative at the peace talks: "There were people in the prime minister's bureau who pulled their hair out when they understood that we in the State of Israel cannot ensure the government's commitment to the outside world and its instructions to the army, which were not carried out in the end, or were carried out in a way that was not in accord with their original spirit. Military secretary Gadi Eisenkot could not believe such a thing was happening. The prime minister and defense minister had insufficient, unsatisfying control of how the military carried out his instructions.

"We are talking about a phenomenon - the army sends its representatives to the negotiations, but is contemptuous of their possible results. It is not an army officer's job to trample on that political goal, and to broadcast to his subordinates: 'We are merely heading toward a confrontation and there is no reason to assume any kind of diplomatic agreement is possible."

Brig. gen. (Res). Zvi Fogel, who headed the Southern Command staff: "By February 2000, we had taken very serious moves to prepare the army for a confrontation. At that moment, I understood a confrontation was unavoidable. I created all the conditions for it; it was not that we were forced to use force in order to enable a positive outcome to the political negotiations; the preparations we made led to a confrontation.

"I want to remind you, this was the beginning of 2000, and we were still in the era of joint patrols. You create distress on the other side, which makes him want to break this distress. They called it an intifada. After six weeks of fighting, they had more than 60 dead and we had zero. For them, that was unacceptable."

Now, the issue of supplying the Palestinian Authority with armored cars teaches us that nothing has changed. Despite the fact that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has made a specific international commitment on this issue, and despite the Israel Defense Forces' confirmation that the Palestinian policemen are faithfully carrying out their jobs in Nablus, the IDF is blatantly disregarding that commitment, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak is keeping mum. And once again, the strongest army in the Middle East claims that if there is a confrontation, it will have trouble dealing with armored vehicles equipped with rifles. Once again, the IDF is preparing for a confrontation that will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Tremors at the Dead Sea

Geologist Eli Raz, a member of Kibbutz Ein Gedi, sounded quite pleased yesterday with the wave of earthquakes in his region. He says that having many small tremors reduces the danger of one large earthquake - so long as humans do not interfere too much with nature, by digging a canal from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, for example. At a conference held by the regional development authorities and regional council last week, Raz was there throwing cold water on Shimon Peres' baby.

Raz says that laying a brittle tunnel in such a seismologically sensitive area is likely to cause irreversible damage - such as sending salt water into the Arava aquifer. Prof. Yoram Avnimelech of the Technion, formerly the Environmental Protection Ministry's chief scientist, added to this: He warned that drawing 5.5 million cubic meters per day from Aqaba would harm the sea and the coastline. In addition, mixing sulfurous water into the Dead Sea will create gypsum crystals, changing the water in ways still unknown.

For lack of water, the Dead Sea is dropping more than a meter per year. However, the problematic lack of fresh water in the region makes it impossible to top off the sea. Jordan's water crisis has been worsened by the influx of more than 1 million Iraqi refugees, forcing the country to limit Amman's residents to weekly water rations. Israel, as we know, wishes Jordan well, and this why the Red Sea-Dead Sea canal idea was reborn; the water would be desalinated and could be used in Jordan and Palestine, as well as saving the Dead Sea.

Almost everyone, apart from those connected with Peres' project, agree that playing around with the Dead Sea's water is like playing with fire, and that alternatives must at least be examined. One of these would be a northern canal from the Mediterranean Sea to Amman, via the Jordan River.

But apparently the Jordanians are not prepared to give Israel control of their water mains. Peres has taken the side of our neighbors, and together they have asked the World Bank to carry out an economic feasibility survey for the southern canal option only. The bank is raising $15 million for it. The friends of the Dead Sea are hoping it will last at least until the survey is completed and the experts stop wrangling with one another.