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Finance Minister Netanyahu: 'I Will Not Quit Cabinet & Lead Campaign Against Disengagement'

Withdrawal Opponents Launch Massive Protest Aimed At Paralyzing Traffic Across Nation; Israel Police Warn Greater Force Will Be Used To Keep Roads Open

Former IDF Chief Of Staff Yaalon Left In Dark About Disengagement

Withdrawal Opponents kids

Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has ended days of speculation that he will bolt the government and lead the campaign to halt Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza strip and 4 West bank settlements. Netanyahu, Prime Minister Sharon's main rival in the Likud, has declared that he is sticking in the cabinet although he believes the disengagement is a big mistake which will jeopardize the country's future security. His announcement came as thousands of disengagement opponents stepped up their campaign by blocking traffic around the country. The Israel Police warn they will not tolerate such a move and ready to move in with force. David Essing reports on developments as the disengagement countdown continues.

Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says No!

Finance Minister Netanyahu

Netanyahu has announced that he will not quit the cabinet and lead the mounting campaign to block Prime Minister Sharon's withdrawal plans from the Gaza Strip and 4 West Bank settlements. Netanyahu declared he opposed the disengagement that would worsen the country's security and cost over $2 billion, but:' he was not going anywhere'. Addressing an economic conference, the Finance Minister said it was vital for him to push through his economic reforms. The far right had been hoping that Netanyahu, Sharon's main rival in the Likud would quit the government.His refusal to do so is a blow to the anti- withdrawal campaign; however opponents are as determined as ever. They are launching a huge protest by blocking traffic nation - wide. Some have already brought traffic to a halt in the Tel Aviv area during morning rush hour by spilling oil and nails on a freeway. The Israel Police have warned they will use greater force to keep traffic running. Prime Minister Sharon has also vowed:' the extremist minority will not be allowed to impose their will.'

Palestinian Snapshot: The Palestinian areas have been enjoying an economic boom since Chairman Mahmoud Abbas took control last November. This according to official Palestinian economic indicators that IDF General Yusuf Mishlev presented to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. General Mishlev, who is responsible for IDF civil coordination with the Palestinians, despite their upbeat economy, Palestinians are very worried about the local lawlessness that rules their streets. Bilateral annual trade between Israel and the Palestinian areas is up by 25% totaling more than $2 billion, tourism to Bethlehem has nearly tripled, financial transactions between Palestinian and Jordanian banks is up be 45%, and Palestinian tax revenues have grown from under $ 300 million to nearly $ 400 million. Citing the West Bank town of Nablus as typical, Palestinian figures showed that the number of Palestinians with jobs has doubled as has the number of trucks transporting produce between the Palestinian territories and Israel. This economic growth was going on although the rule of armed gangs made it tough to collect tax revenues. General Mishlev went on to say it is this lawlessness concerns Palestinians more than what will happen after Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip and 4 settlements in Samaria this fall. The Palestinians are critical of Abbas for not clamping down on the outlaws who open fire in the streets and burst into their homes and rob them. During Arafat's rule, Palestinian spoke of anarchy or ' Fouda' now they talk of the total loss of control, what they call ' Falatan'. Mishlev went on to say the Palestinian Authority is making little headway in security reforms or law and order. Nonetheless, Mahmoud Abbas enjoys 60% popular support; but his Fatah movement has slipped to 40% while Hamas is gaining ground with 30%.

Joint Center: With the Israeli withdrawal set for sometime after August 15th , Israeli and Palestinian civil authorities have agreed to set up a joint center to ensure that water, power supplies and other services continue without hitch.

Question: When, if at all, will this Palestinian boom be translated into opposition to the terrorist gangs and when will Mahmoud Abbas crack down on the internal violence that punishes Palestinian civilians?

Former Chief Of Staff Yaalon

Left In The Dark: So says the former IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon who appeared before the Knesset State Comptroller's Committee discussing government decision- making. Yaalon disclosed that Prime Minister Sharon first worked out the withdrawal plan ' with the Americans and maybe the Egyptians. Only then did Sharon present the chief of staff with the 'finished product' for a military assessment of its prospects and pitfalls. Yaalon said ' I learned about it from the media, in my view is not the right way to do things'. The disclosure will supply ammunition to disengagement opponents who are planning to block rush hour traffic in protest of Sharon's disengagement. The Israel Police warn they will not allow settlers to bring traffic to a standstill. It sounds as if both sides are taking off the kid gloves. Meanwhile, the pressure is still on Finance Minister Bibi Netanyahu to quit the government and lead a last - hitch effort to block the withdrawal. MK Avigdor Lieberman of the far right National Union has appealed to Netanyahu saying ' it's not too late!' Netanyahu is still procrastinating; Channel 10 has screened a poll showing that Netanyahu has, for the first time , taken a narrow 1% lead over Sharon among Likudniks; several months ago Netanyahu trailed by a whopping 19%. However, 48 % favored Sharon's disengagement compared to 40% against.

To The Brig: IDF soldier Avi Bieber who captured headlines by refusing an order to demolish buildings, manned by settlers in the Gaza Strip, will spend the next 56 days in a military prison. A court - martial found Corporal Bieber, whose family immigrated to Israel from the U.S., guilty on two counts: refusal to obey a lawful order and also with insulting and threatening his commander. The young soldier's family lives in the West Bank settlement of Tekoa.

Ahmed Tibi Tours: Ahmed Tibi, an Israeli Arab Knesset Member has done it again. The first time Dr. Tibi traveled illegally to Lebanon, Attorney General Mazuz let him off with a slap on the wrist warning him not to do it again. Nonetheless, Tibi has made now returned from a second visit to Beirut; Israeli law requires a special permit for traveling to any Arab state which is not at peace with Israel. So, the Attorney General now wants to prosecute the MK, something that will require the Knesset lifting Tibi's parliamentary immunity. The Knesset member says he rejects the law about visiting enemy countries because it is ' political' and Lebanon is not an enemy state for him. In the past, the maverick Tibi also ruffled feathers by serving as an advisor to Yasser Arafat. Apparently, there was no specific Israeli law against this because Tibi was never prosecuted; however, he does no service for the Arab minority in Israel. This at a time that National Union leader Lieberman is proposing that the Arab Triangle area, where Tibi lives, should be part of a land swap between Israel and the future Palestinian state. Lieberman says it would not involve moving Arabs out of their homes but redrawing the border to include them in Palestine. He suggests the Arab Triangle now in Israel be exchanged for the Gush Etzion settlement bloc on the West Bank. Israeli Arabs are categorically opposed to the idea saying they want to remain in Israel.

David Essing

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