A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending December 23, 2004:

Sudden Discord between Bush and Sharon


17 December: Until last week, the Bush administration stood behind Ariel Sharon and heartily endorsed his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. But then the wind blowing in from Washington suddenly turned chill. The White House suddenly spun its sympathies around to the Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas. debkafile‘s Washington sources outline the new state of play.

Our sources in Washington believe that the determining factor in the US president’s turnabout was the message from Abbas that he will be in a position to announce a comprehensive ceasefire on or around January 1.

Bush decided that if Abu Mazen can pull this off, his demands deserve close attention.

They are, first, that Israel hold up its plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank by September 2005 and set a new much shorter timeline for its execution.

Second, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank must be a lot deeper than the line marking off the northern tip with the four settlements that Sharon proposes to evacuate. If confirmed by Washington, these initial demands will require Sharon to scrap his four key policy objectives.

1. The disengagement strategy born as a unilateral exercise is now destined for the negotiating table and subjected to tough Palestinian bargaining. Washington looks like lining up behind Palestinian demands rather than Israel.

2. The proposition that the withdrawal from Gaza and northern West Bank will be Israel’s last territorial concessions to the Palestinians will go by the board.

3. Washington has said often that terrorism must stop as a prerequisite for political progress. But he now looks like going back on this policy as he has in Iraq.

4. In his “Big Opportunities for 2005” speech Thursday, Sharon presented his Gaza pullback plan as the road to cure-alls for Israel’s economic woes, to new markets and to solutions for the extreme social and economic disparities between Israel’s rich and poor.

debkafile‘s Washington sources note that, while the Bush administration never promised US aid for the payout to evicted settlers or the Israeli army’s redeployment in the Negev, it was understood that Washington would be helpful to Israel on international and financial markets.

That too is in doubt.

The Bush administration is now focusing fully on raising $6-8 billion dollars from its own resources and those of other nations, including the Europeans, for Palestinian reconstruction and recovery projects over the next five years. Israel will not only miss out on funding for its peace efforts but its taxpayers will be asked to contribute to the Palestinians.


Can Settlers Raise the Numbers to Resist Evictions?


21 December: On December 19, the mild-spoken Pinhas Wallerstein, a leading member of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha Council) called on all Israelis to resist Ariel Sharon’s plan to dismantle 26 settlements non-violently “even if it means going to jail.” He started a national furore. He declared the disengagement/compensation law to remove all 21 Gaza settlements and four in the West Bank immoral, arguing that removing Jews from their homes was a violation of their human rights. If the measure were passed, they were entitled to break the law and refuse to leave those homes.

A day later, the entire Yesha Council endorsed Wallerstein’s call for passive resistance.

Next morning, December 21, campaigners turned out sporting Orange-flag badges. This called forth outraged condemnations from the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial foundation and the Wiesenthal Center for daring to evoke the infamous Yellow-star badge forced on the Jews by the Nazis.

Wallerstein played his strongest card when he declared that if enough people were willing to follow his example and go to jail, there won’t be enough prisons in the country to hold them all. This struck a disturbing chord with police commissioner Moshe Karadi. On Monday, December 20, he warned that the evacuation of Gaza Strip’s Gush Katif could be aborted by massive resistance. “A government decision that is impossible to execute is a danger to any democracy.”

In a move to defuse the suspense, the Knesset’s Law Committee chaired by Likud MK Michael Eytan voted Tuesday, December 21, to cut out the penalty clause from the controversial evacuation/compensation bill. The clause stated that participants in groups of three or more gathered to obstruct an order given by a security officer charged with implementing the disengagement plan would be subject to up to five years in prison.

According to debkafile‘s sources, the settlement leaders have drawn up a plan to pre-empt the evacuations by setting up around Gush Katif a tent city of 70,000 protesters, ten times its population and 14 times that of the police evacuation force. Already today, Palestinian mortar, shooting, bombing and missile attacks escalate daily – 14 on Tuesday alone. This mass of Israeli civilians in one place would present Palestinian terrorists with an irresistible target for massacre, forcing the army to fan out in Palestinian areas to quell any violence. The result would be havoc and the defeat of the prime minister’s pullback plan.

To make their resistance plans work, the settlers’ strategists must command large numbers of selfless protesters. Do they have them? And how far are they committed to passive, non-violent resistance?

Interesting pointers turned up in the random sampling by Maagar Mohot pollster Prof. Yizhak Katz of 584 adult settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He found that 45% support and 31% oppose Wallerstein’s call to disobey the “Jewish transfer” bill, that 40% are prepared to go to jail for passively resisting the dismantling of their homes, but 49% are not. A large segment of 76% is opposed to violent resistance to military and police eviction forces, while 14% would countenance force.

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