The Yesha Council Must Decide

The Yesha Council is playing a double game. It is inflaming a tense situation that threatens bloodshed - and then warning of this danger, as if it were a wise UN observer.

It is an axiom of Judaism that "all is foreseen, but free choice is given." That is to say, man has free choice to act according to his understanding and conscience, even if he believes God is watching his every move and knows how he will act. Unlike the deterministic concepts, in Islam, for example, Judaism gives the believer freedom to act and demands that he bear the onus for choosing between good and evil.

The Yesha Council of Jewish settlements is acting in the last few days as though it has forgotten this principle. It is threatening civil war, as though this is a decree of destiny and cannot be prevented, if the disengagement plan is carried out.

In fact, the Yesha Council is playing a double game. On one hand, it is inflaming a tense situation threatening the state with bloodshed; on the other, it is warning of this outcome, as though it were a UN observer deigning to share with the state's captains a learned insight on how to avoid the disaster - by giving up the idea of withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank, of course.

The Yesha Council has chosen a slogan - "the disengagement is causing a rift in the nation" - to enlist public sympathy toward its cause. This slogan is not as innocent as it first sounds, and is also deceptive. It is not innocent because it holds a threat, and it is deceptive because the rift is not being "caused" - someone is causing it.

The settler leaders' diagnosis, that the disengagement leads to a rift in the nation, is signaling their way of foiling it, while at the same time maintaining the facade of well wishing onlookers. They are the ones involved up to their eyebrows in creating the loaded atmosphere surrounding the disengagement, and they are the ones warning the prime minister and his ministers of the results of their decisions.

This pretense is continuing and developing. At a meeting senior Yesha Council members held last week with the defense minister, they were more explicit. They spoke of civil war and of being ready to shoot soldiers who come to carry out the evacuation. At the same time, they held a seemingly sober discussion with Shaul Mofaz on the settlers' harassment of officers and Shin Bet people who are involved in the disengagement plan or attempts to evacuate outposts.

They pleaded with Mofaz, assuming a tone of friendly recommendation, to reconsider his moves and to explain to the prime minister the danger hovering over Israeli society's integrity. The Yesha Council is now in a dubious company that does not stop at threatening with violence and even exercising it, to thwart the disengagement.

Thus the settlers' leaders personify one of the manifestations of evil, as the Jewish sages defined it - those who wreak havoc. They position themselves on the side of the hilltop youths, the delusionary extremists of Yitzhar, Kiryat Arba and other right wing radicals, within the green line and beyond it, in whose midst grow types like Yigal Amir.

The Yesha Council presents a false facade of a responsible leadership pretending to be losing control of the masses, while in reality it is legitimizing the settlers' readiness to use radical means to oppose the withdrawal.

The disengagement is indeed causing a rift in the nation. This is a harsh move that cannot be carried out without an internal crisis. It must be adopted in a formal, proper procedure which no one would be able to dispute. The decision procedure must be conducted with the correct definition of the camps and the rules of the game in which the controversy will be sorted out.

The Yesha Council must decide where it is placing itself - inside the camp that wishes to preserve the image of Israeli democracy, or with the groups willing to turn their backs on it; among those who accept the majority's decision, or those who obey the rabbi's orders. The bottom line could be that the Yesha Council will choose between the integrity of the nation and the integrity of the state - and it must make its choice.