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THIS WEEK 12.8.05

Disengagement Roller-Coaster Is Pulling Out of the Station

Bush Sides With Sharon In Match Up With Netanyahu

Attorney General Mazuz 'Needs A Good Lawyer' In the Court Of Common Sense

Iran Defies Throws Caution To The Wind And Resumes Nuclear Weapons Drive

PM Sharon - Binyamin Netanyahu

Just days before Israeli settlers are to be evacuated from the Gaza Strip, Israel was buffeted time and again, by one surprise after another. With tension reaching a fever pitch over the Gaza withdrawal, Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu resigned in protest over the disengagement. Subsequent public opinion polls then showed Netanyahu would topple Sharon in a Likud party election today. Enter U.S. President George W. Bush trying to bolster Sharon and praising his withdrawal plan. While the country is in the throes of the traumatic disengagement, with Sharon sleeping with a loaded pistol under his pillow, Attorney General Manny Mazuz says there is no proof that incitement was responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin nearly ten years ago.

Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon are now embroiled in a bitter no-holds barred confrontation. Their fragile alliance crumbled when Finance Minister Netanyahu finally made his move and quit the government in protest over next week's Gaza withdrawal.

'Better late than never!' That's been the reaction of the anti- disengagement camp to Netanyahu's belated decision. Clearly, the withdrawal opponents have lacked a leader like Netanyahu in order to defeat Sharon's withdrawal scheme. A Maariv poll today now shows that only 52% of the Israeli public, support the withdrawal plan. The 'What If' game is always tricky when looking at past events, but it is surely plausible that if Netanyahu had made his move months ago, the withdrawal might have been stopped in its tracks. Even Netanyahu, in announcing his resignation, admitted that it was too late to halt the pullout. Why then did he play his Hamlet role to the very last moment, when it was too late? The Finance Minister had contended that it was crucial for him to remain in the Sharon cabinet in order to push through his historic economic reforms. What suddenly changed his mind? One does not have to be a Sherlock Holmes to arrive at the conclusion that Netanyahu saw an opinion poll of 152,000 Likud party members that showed him trouncing Sharon by some 15 points. Moreover, by remaining in the cabinet, Netanyahu would have borne responsibility for creating 'an Al Qaeda terror base in the Gaza Strip'. Instead of blaming Netanyahu for not resigning when it could have made all the difference, he is being welcomed with a 'better late than never' greeting; apparently Likudniks and the far right are more infuriated with Sharon than they are critical of their new hero. On this score the Likudniks and right-wingers who voted Sharon contend they have a case. By what stretch of the imagination could they have ever dreamed that Sharon, who vowed never to negotiate under Palestinian fire, would make an about-face and withdraw under the threat of Palestinian fire. They charge that Netanyahu turned the democratic process on its head.

Question: Netanyahu said that he did not want history to judge him as being party to the withdrawal, but is he not concerned that history will view him as the leader who might have stopped 'Sharon's retreat' but did not resign his cabinet post in time to lead the anti-withdrawal campaign? In addition, Netanyahu has not now mounted the anti-disengagement barricades; on the contrary, he has skipped town by spending the last Sabbath before the withdrawal in the U.S. for previously scheduled meetings.

Question: Could it be that Netanyahu actually wants Sharon to take the rap for the withdrawal? The U.S. has taken the disengagement under its wing and adopted it as a corridor leading to the opening of the Roadmap negotiations on a Palestinian state. If Netanyahu had resigned earlier and halted the disengagement (by leading a coup among Likud Knesset members or in the Likud central committee) he would, in the short-term, have faced the ire of the Bush Administration. Not that he won't, if he succeeds in toppling Sharon in the Likud and has to face the Roadmap later on, but that is long- term in Israeli politics. Where does Netanyahu stand on the Roadmap and a Palestinian state? The former Finance Minister contends that the unilateral withdrawal will pose a serious security threat to Israel. It will be viewed as an Israeli capitulation to terrorism and egg on the terrorists from a much more advantageous position. In addition, it sets the precedent of a total withdrawal to the 1967 lines that has implications for Judea and Samaria, that is the West Bank. On this score, Laborite Ehud Barak who supports the withdrawal agrees with Netanyahu on the total withdrawal from Gaza while even Yossi Beilin, leader of the far-left of far left Meretz, blames Sharon for mishandling the withdrawal. Beilin accuses Sharon of given a free lunch to the Palestinians by not seeking a 'quid pro quo' for Israel's withdrawal and setting in motion a full-fledged negotiating process. On record, Netanyahu opposes a Palestinian state.

Sharon: The polls that showed Netanyahu is more popular in the Likud should really come as no surprise. Remember that Likud party referendum that rejected Sharon's disengagement only for the Prime Minister to ride rough-shod over his own party and go ahead anyway. But there are so many variable factors it's still not clear where the overall disengagement will lead. The Likud polls are a popularity contest at this point in time; Netanyahu stands for the Likud ideology of not giving up the Land of Israel. On the other hand, Sharon has apparently charted a different course when it comes to Gaza. The Prime Minister talks of the need to consider the geopolitics of the situation including demography and whether Israel will be a Jewish Zionist state or a bi-national entity in the future. Rightly or wrongly, it's still too early to know, Sharon believes he has cut a deal with Bush. That the U.S. President will stand by his statement about Israel not returning to old lines of 1967 on the West Bank. If former Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin gave up Sinai to save Judea & Samaria, Sharon is giving up Gaza to do the same. In Israel, Sharon is constantly criticized for not adequately explaining to the public just where he is headed. Many Likudniks, right- wingers and political pundits still scratch their heads asking: 'What's happened to Arik, why is he doing this?'

Is the unilateral withdrawal so out of Sharon Character? Maybe not, perhaps it has to do with another key question. Sharon launched the disengagement because Yasser Arafat was not a peace partner, on this everyone concurs. But why then did Sharon not suspend the controversial Gaza withdrawal when a viable Palestinian partner did appear in the person of Mahmoud Abbas? Again, there may be only one plausible explanation and one that Sharon is loath to talk about in public; he has not changed his mind that Abbas, with all his positive rhetoric is not the strong Palestinian leader who can make a peace deal stick with Israel. Abbas, in Sharon's view is still the 'plucked chick' he was under Arafat. There is ample proof - instead of taking on Hamas and Islamic Jihad that threaten to destroy Israel and refuse to accept the authority of Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas has tried to co- opt the terror organizations as they exploit the current 'Tahdia' lull to regroup and build up their arsenals. If this is the case, what would Sharon have achieved by halting his unilateral disengagement and taken it off the table? The U.S. and the rest of the Quartet would have jumped in with the Roadmap including the West Bank. By limiting his withdrawal scheme to the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements, Sharon is putting Abbas to the test; if Abbas fails the test, and the terrorists attack Israeli children, women and men being evacuated, the IDF will respond severely and all bets are off. But if Sharon did reveal this strategy, he could be criticized for not taking the peace process seriously enough and maybe not acting in good faith. This at a time the U.S. is gung-ho over Abbas and his peace rhetoric. Secondly, if the withdrawal comes off peacefully, Sharon will insist that the Roadmap calls for Abbas to dismantle the terrorists before Roadmap negotiations. Where will Bush stand then? (See report of Dennis Ross says Bush views Roadmap as no more than a list of slogans). If Sharon turns tough during and after the disengagement, what will the public opinion polls show then? Sharon may continue walking his high- wire between ideology and geopolitics not only to preserve his wonderful friendship with George W., but also with his new Labor colleagues. If anything, Sharon has proved he is a political street- fighter who goes for the jugular. In the Channel 1 TV interview, Sharon stressed he was staying in the Likud, noting that he was the one who had so deftly formed the party years ago. Reading between the lines, it sounded like a veiled threat to his Likud opponents that if they oust him, he'll found a new rival party. The bottom line is that the recent Likud poll is only for this point in time and things are about to take off.

Palestinians: Take the Palestinians, Abbas and his disengagement lieutenant Mahmoud Dahlan promise the Palestinians will not open fire during the Israeli evacuation. Abbas even went as far as chastising Hamas and Islamic Jihad, refuting their claim that their Qassam rockets are driving Israel out of Gaza. Abbas believes he has a deal with Hamas, Jihad and his own Fatah organization to hold their fire during the pullout. Palestinian police are also taking up positions within Qassam range of the settlements to prevent terrorists from attacking. The Palestinian leader called on his people to behave responsibly and to show the world they are deserving of their own state. Israeli intelligence sources believe there is at least a fifty- fifty chance the Gaza withdrawal will be peaceful and joint coordination center is being set up. Palestinian splinter groups, which reject the current lull, may pose the biggest threat. Interviewed on Israeli TV, Dahlan said if the peace process picks up, the Gaza Strip will remain quiet. The influx of foreign aid for building housing and a sea- port will bring home to the Palestinians they have a big stake in preserving the quiet. Again, Israeli intelligence has uncovered signs that the terror organizations are moving the focus of their operations and arsenals to the West Bank. On the other, Dahlan issued his own veiled threat; if the peace process does not move quickly enough there could be trouble.

Mazzuz

Attorney-General Mazuz & Incitement Gaff : In the midst of the disengagement turmoil, Attorney- General Meni Mazuz got into the act by declaring there was no proof that incitement had caused the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was shot dead by an Israeli fanatic Yigal Amir on November 4th, 1995. Right wingers had dressed up an effigy of Rabin in a Nazi SS uniform accusing of betraying Israel by concessions to the Palestinians in the Oslo process. Yigal Amir himself said that he was influenced by rabbis who had also condemned Rabin. At present, some right-wingers and rabbis have conducted religious rites calling for Sharon's death and the Shabak security service warns there is a danger to the Prime Minister's life. Sharon himself sleeps with a loaded pistol under his pillow. The State Comptroller's committee in the Knesset called a special hearing to discuss the danger of incitement and it was there that the Attorney general made his statement. It aroused a fierce reaction by mainly left wingers and most of the media. Some right wingers praised Mazuz for setting the record straight and debunking left- wing charges that the right- wing was indirectly responsible for Rabin's assassination. Why did the Attorney- General get embroiled in such a searing issue at such a traumatic time? He has been under fire, for not prosecuting those rabbis and settlement leaders, who many feel are inciting against Sharon. The Attorney-General could have skirted the highly controversial Rabin issue and stuck to the legalities of what constitutes freedom of speech and incitement in the country today. By referring to the painful Rabin case, Mazuz opened himself to criticism that his statement will encourage more unbridled incitement against Sharon. One legal source recalls the didactic case of someone who irresponsibly throws a rock down a mountain-side cannot claim innocence when that rock causes a rockslide that kills some else. In Israel today, some of those inciting against Sharon are actually calling for his death. Many Israelis have reacted by saying: 'The Attorney- General now needs a good lawyer in the court of common sense'.

Iran: The Iranians have now made crystal clear, no if ands or buts, that they are bent on producing nuclear weapons. A country awash in oil but riven by poverty has sent tens of billions of dollars in developing clandestine nuclear projects as well ground to ground missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads. All that Iran requires to develop nuclear weapons is enriched uranium and this week, Iran defied the world and enriched its uranium enrichment facility at Isfahan. The international community is now debating what to do. Iran, with no common border with Israel, has threatened to destroy the Jewish state; Ayatollah Rafsanjani once talked about how one Muslim atomic bomb could do it. It is a sign of the tumultuous times in Israel that Iran's renewing of its uranium enrichment received no more comment than say the question of North Korea's nuclear weapons development. In any case please hear our report from 4.11.03 On the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel.

David Essing

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