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THIS WEEK, A REVIEW OF SOME OF THE MAIN NEWS STORIES IN ISRAEL OVER THE PAST SEVEN DAYS.

The program includes interviews with MK Avraham Ravitz, Pinhas Wallerstein, Mk Yuli Tamir, MK Benny Aylon, MK Yuval Steinitz and professor Robert Lieber.

- The program was produced before the Sabbath -

On Monday, Prime Minister Sharon presents his new disengagement government for the Knesset’s approval in Jerusalem. But as Sharon’s withdrawal regains momentum, so does resistance raising the specter of civil violence and bloodshed.

The five Knesset members of the United Torah Judaism party will give Sharon a Knesset majority of over sixty members, making it possible to implement next summer's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements. MK Avraham Ravitz admits that the ultra-orthodox religious 'haredi' party did not want to decide the fate of the withdrawal, but had no choice.

Settlers vs Soldiers (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Meanwhile, IDF troops clash with settlers at the unauthorized outpost of Yitzhar in the territories. Protestors resist, at times violently. At one point, a soldier who feels threatened fires a warning shot in the air and some demonstrators call the soldiers, 'Nazis!' One soldier shows up to call on his comrades to disobey their orders to dismantle the outpost. He is arrested and sentenced to the brig. Two settler leaders, who called on the protestors to resist, are now being investigated. In another development, thirty-four IDF reserve officers sign a petition refusing to participate in the evacuation of settlements. After the Defense Minister threatens to kick them out of the IDF, the officers say they now have 'reservations' about not obeying orders. The IDF will decide whether or not to court-martial them. Outside the Knesset, hundreds of settler families set up a protest camp against the withdrawals. Prime Minister Sharon and Defense Minister Mofaz visit the paratroopers who clashed with the settlers at Yitzhar; in a tough warning to the settlers, Sharon tells the soldiers they do not have to take blows or insults from protestors. The Justice Minister, Attorney General and Police Chief consult on stepping up law enforcement.

Pinhas Wallerstein, the head of the Binyamin Council, lives in the settlement of Ofra. Last week, he triggered a stormy debate by calling on settlers to protest without violence and even be ready to go to jail if need be. In light of the latest clashes how far is Israel from a civil war?

Labor MK Yuli Tamir of Labor charges that Wallerstein's statement about 'going to jail' is fraught with danger and may incite some settlers to take the law into their hands.

MK Benny Aylon of the National Union was fired by Sharon from the former cabinet because he opposed the disengagement. Aylon lives in the settlement of Beth El.

However, in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Shabak Security Chief Avi Dichter warns there is a group of several dozen hard-core Jewish extremists who are plotting to initiate exchanges of fire between IDF soldiers and settlers in order to sabotage the withdrawal. Dichter also disclosed that Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip have now acquired five ground-to-air missile launchers as well as large quantities of weapons and explosives; they have been smuggled in from Egyptian controlled Sinai. Committee Chairman Yuval Steinitz of the Likud warns of this threat.

What is the view from Washington of the current Mid-East situation? Professor Robert Lieber is a well know political scientist at Georgetown University who visited Jerusalem for a Hebrew University Conference. Lieber declared that in general 'settlements are not helpful and settlements in Gaza are insane!' However, he added there were no grounds for the argument that settlements were the cause of Arab enmity towards Israel. Lieber contends: 'Just ask if there were no settlements what would the answer be. No!' IsraCast asked Lieber if U.S. President Bush has now adopted a more multi-lateral approach to Iraq and if so, does this entail a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute? Does the road OUT of Baghdad lead through Jerusalem and Ramallah?

David Essing

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