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Settlers Rebel Against Netanyahu's 'Suspension'

West Bank Settlers' Leader: 'We Will Continue Settlement Building & Escalate Civil Rebellion!'

Confrontation May Prove To Be Test Case On On Settlement Issue For Israeli Public

'Clash of Civilizations' Reaches Switzerland & Saudi Arabia

Israeli settlers in Judea & Samaria (West Bank) are defying the Israeli government's ten month housing freeze. In several incidents, the residents have prevented housing inspectors from entering their communities to serve the building freeze orders. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has tried to allay the settlers' fury by stressing that Israeli construction will be resumed after the ten month 'suspension' and that 3,000 current housing units will be completed. IsraCast assessment: Israel is now bracing for a showdown between settlers and their former champion, right-wing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. In other developments this week, are there new manifestations of the 'clash of civilizations' in Europe and even in the Middle East?

Many of the 300,000 Israelis residents, who now make their homes on the West Bank, are about to go on the warpath against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the right-wing champion of settlement building. The so-called 'settlers' helped vote the Likud leader into office less than a year ago but now they are furious that Netanyahu has agreed to suspend new housing permits on the West Bank. They reject the explanation that the step is in Israel's national interest for improving the tense ties with U.S. President Barack Obama, possibly jump-starting the Palestinian peace negotiations that could lead to improved relations with the Arab world at a critical time that the Jewish state faces the specter of a nuclear armed Iran.

In addition, to physically barring housing inspectors from entering their communities to serve the freeze orders, the settlers are about to launch a campaign a civil disobedience; next week they will block main highways in Israel. Settler leader Danny Dayan has declared: 'We are determined to resist the government's unlawful decree but will do so without violence'. In this vein, settlers also 'advise' the government to start building big prisons because many of them are prepared to go to jail for their principles. Meanwhile, they will try to repeal the housing freeze by appealing to the Supreme Court. Their battle-cry is: 'We'll keep building!' no matter what the government decides. They accuse Netanyahu of betraying the very constituency that voted him into office. Meanwhile, they see the housing freeze as the biblical 'writing on the wall' sending the signal that Israel is ready to compromise with the Palestinians on Judea & Samaria. Their fury should not be underestimated. It recalls the bitter animosity toward another former Likud leader, Ariel Sharon who carried out a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. And they add; 'Look what that got us, an escalation in the rocketing from Gaza and the takeover of Gaza by Hamas!'

A former Likudnik and now a member of Avigdor Lieberman's party, cabinet Minister Uzi Landau voted against the freeze. Landau is convinced that Netanyahu, like Sharon, is also going down a 'slippery slope' that will end badly for Israel. Although Netanyahu argues that it is only a housing 'suspension', his critics do not believe him. Moreover, they contend that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has already rejected Netanyahu's concession calling it 'not enough'. In their view, the Netanyahu argument does not hold water and the settlers, many of whose personal lives will be upset, will be made to pay the price to prove their really is no viable Palestinian partner, even if Washington praises Netanyahu's concession.

Former Defense Minister Prof. Moshe Arens

Former Defense Minister Moshe Arens of the Likud also brands the Iranian rationale as 'specious'. Arens told Channel TV that a nuclear Iran is first and foremost an American problem and there was no way that President Obama could allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. How then should Israel respond to Obama's demand that Israel cease settlement building at this time? Arens advised Netanyahu to take a page out of Menachem Begin's book and tell the U.S. that 'Israel is not a banana republic and stand up for her vital interests'.

However, it can also be argued that the Arens position flies in the face of intelligence assessments by both the IDF and Mossad. For several years, they have designated a nuclear Iran as both the number #1 strategic threat to Israel, one that would endanger its very existence. To this end, the Israel Air Force has been training to possibly go it alone if the U.S. decides , as some American commentators advise, 'to live with a nuclear Iran'. On this score, Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said he is convinced that Israel views a nuclear Iran as an existential threat but the last thing he needs right now is another front after Iraq and Afghanistan. And while Tehran remains adamant in continuing its nuclear weapons program, despite Obama's ultimatum, it is prudent for Netanyahu to be in Obama's good books. (Incidentally, if the U.S. does initiate stiffer international sanctions on Iran next month, Dr. Eldad Pardo, an Israeli expert, expects President Ahmadenijad to find a way to make his opponents pay the lion's share by imposing taxes that will hit residents in the urban areas such as Tehran.)

Most of the 300,000 Israelis, who live in large urban areas such as Maale Adumim, Pisgat Zeev, Ariel etc., went to live there after the Six Day War of 1967 and did so for practical housing reasons. In Israeli terminology, they are not necessarily the highly religious and nationally motivated 'settlers' who live in the much smaller towns and villages and see themselves as fulfilling the divine mission of redeeming the Land of Israel. (In this sense, they argue that in biblical times the Almighty granted the Land of Israel to the Jews for all eternity and no contemporary Israeli government has the right to give it up. Therefore, the two- state solution cannot really be a political option). This is the backdrop to what could be a major test-case for the country over the settlement issue and support for Prime Minister Netanyahu's right to initiate steps that he believes to be in the national interest. Inside the Likud, there is some grumbling among the back-benchers who are pointing the finger at Obama for pressuring Netanyahu. But the fact that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas still refuses to come to the table has reinforced the view that nothing is going to happen anyway. This contrasts with the situation back in 1995 after the Oslo Agreement when Yitzak Rabin was negotiating with Yasser Arafat, who was considered to be a serious Palestinian leader.

Clashes of Civilizations:

CASE 1: Will the Swiss referendum which voted against the building of minarets on mosques become a watershed on how other European countries relate to their growing Muslim minorities? The Swiss case was followed with more than a passing interest in the Jewish state. One columnist cautioned that Israelis should not rejoice in the Swiss blow to the Muslims saying that the anti-Muslim sentiment might also have an anti- Semitic component. But there is another aspect that bears on the traditional Israeli position that Israel is a Jewish state which protects the rights of her minorities. Is this not the same message sent by a majority of the Swiss in their recent referendum - they also declared that they want Switzerland to remain the land of Swiss traditions and the vast majority of Swiss just happen to be Christian. Therefore, mosques yes but high-profile minarets dominating the Swiss skyline are out.

The Jewish community in Switzerland supported the Muslims' rights to build minarets on their mosques, apparently in solidarity with the religious rights of minorities. The Swiss case focuses a spotlight on the growing number of Muslims living in Europe today and in this case reflects the Swiss attitude on how far they are ready to give up what they see as their traditional character of life. In Britain today there is a group of Muslims who talk openly about making the 'shariya', Muslim religious law the law of the land. And of how a Muslim banner will one day fly over Buckingham Palace. In Paris, there are Muslim neighborhoods where French police do not enter. This is also the case in some other French cities as well. In fact, French President Nicole Sarkozy once told an Israeli official: 'There are 25 million Muslims now living in Europe so for heavens sake you Israelis must resolve your differences with the Palestinians, otherwise these Muslims will make our lives miserable!' As for the Jewish community in Switzerland, they like Jews elsewhere have lived there for generations and blended in with their fellow citizens, treating their religion as a private affair. Judaism itself is not a proselytizing religion such as Islam and synagogues do not have minarets equipped with loudspeakers calling on the faithful to come to prayer.

CASE 2: The ongoing confrontation between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam have long waged war in Iraq and now it has erupted elsewhere in the Middle East. It is being fought between the army of Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Houthi rebels in northern Yemen. In a Guardian article entitled 'Saudi Arabia goes to war', analyst Mai Yamani wrote that Saudi Arabia has fought the Islamism of the Moslem Brotherhood and Hamas, the terrorism of al- Qaida and the Shi'ism of Iran. Now Saudi Arabia has joined the fray in aid of Yemen which is fighting the Houthi rebels who have, ostensibly, been encroaching on Saudi territory from northern Yemen. Needless to say, Iran is again fueling the flames in backing the Houthi. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has again warned Iran to stop meddling in the Arab world.

David Essing

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