Right Wing Gears Up for Clash With Sharon

By Chemi Shalev

Published January 02, 2004, issue of January 02, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

JERUSALEM — Israel’s right wing is gearing up for a confrontation with the government in the coming days, in the wake of Prime Minister Sharon’s decision this week to start removing so-called illegal Jewish settlement outposts in the West Bank.

Sharon announced on Sunday that he had decided to remove four outposts, out of an estimated 50 to 100 such sites that he agreed to remove under the terms of President Bush’s road map to peace. The move was partly in response to public clamor for change and partly a response to growing signs of anger in Washington over his failure to move against the outposts until now.

The announcement has prompted intense mobilization among settlers, who are expected to turn out by the thousands in an attempt to block the troops or at least raise the political price of the evacuation and thus discourage future ones.

Sharon’s announcement came in the midst of a furious outcry from the left over the shooting by soldiers last Friday of a left-wing Israeli activist participating in a protest against the separation fence. The shooting prompted criticism from across the political spectrum, including Sharon himself, who said at a Cabinet meeting that the troops should have used crowd-control methods instead of live fire. He ordered an investigation.

The incident failed, however, to become the political firestorm first expected, as news coverage quickly focused on the protesters’ attempts to cut down the hugely popular separation fence, dampening their initial sympathy. By Monday the shooting victim was being questioned in his hospital bed as a suspect by police, but the public’s attention had moved on to other crises, including a paralyzing new round of public-service strikes and Sharon’s outpost plans.

The decision to remove four relatively minor outposts, only one of which is inhabited, was met with derision from the Labor Party and the left, and the Palestinian Authority called it a “public-relations stunt.” Still, it caused agonizing on the right. Leaders of Sharon’s right-wing coalition partners, the National Union and National Religious Party, were urging caution, saying it was too early to bolt the government.

Among settlers, however, sentiment was growing that the evacuation of the one inhabited outpost, Ginot Arye, could set a dangerous precedent. Given Sharon’s stated plan to remove legal, established settlements, settlers say this is where they must make their stand. Rabbis of the Yesha Settlers’ Council called for a human chain around the outpost when troops arrive. As many as 10,000 could respond.

Some Sharon advisers suggested that a televised confrontation between soldiers and settlers might actually help him. For one thing, the public supports removing “unauthorized” sites. Also, the image broadcast to the world community, especially to Washington, would show Sharon ready to make “hard decisions” and keep his word to Bush.

Moreover, if the right-wing ministers are dragged by their followers into a coalition crisis, Sharon can form a unity government with Labor, a potentially popular move.

Ginot Arye may thus develop into a critical test-case for Sharon. This week the chief of the army’s central command, Major General Moshe Kaplinski, issued orders for expedited treatment of appeals against the evacuation, narrowing the settlers’ legal maneuvering room.

Sharon’s critics downplayed his moves, noting that he had backed away from plans to remove the established outpost of Migron, a focus of U.S.-Israeli tension, concentrating instead on a handful of mostly empty sites.

Indeed, critics noted, Sharon has done almost nothing in the past half-year, since publication of the road map and the June summit at Aqaba, to honor his pledge and remove the 100 or so outposts.

It is possible, that the left’s reaction to Sharon’s declarations was more dismissive than usual, intensified by the shooting at the fence, in which an Israeli was seriously hurt and a foreign activist lightly wounded. In scenes broadcast in Israel and worldwide, Golani Brigade soldiers were seen firing at demonstrators trying to break through a gate. An uproar ensued when the injured Israeli, Gil Na’amati, 21, was identified as a kibbutznik who recently completed combat service and whose father, Uri, is a local politician. Tensions mounted when it emerged that the officer who gave the order to open fire was from the West Bank settlement of Elkana.

The left, led by former Meretz leader Yossi Sarid, accused the army of having a “light trigger-finger.” Some critics intimated archly that the army never dared fire on right-wing settlers, even when they had physically threatened soldiers, not just a fence.

The incident appeared to have radicalized the left and may portend new opposition militancy. But it failed to gain public traction, particularly after soldiers told of fears that the protesters were Palestinian extremists intent on rushing them. “I had visions of the Ramallah lynching,” one soldier told an interviewer, referring to the November 2000 beating deaths of two soldiers by a Palestinian mob. Moreover, some prominent leftists dismissed the outcry, insisting the anger reflected a double standard since Palestinians are shot near the Gaza fence almost daily without protest.

Sharon’s advisers meanwhile brushed off the protests of left and right equally and insisted the prime minister was moving ahead with the plans he outlined recently at the Herzliya Conference: making a deal with the Palestinians if it is possible; unilateral separation if it isn’t.

Sharon’s aides admitted that he had “virtually given up” on the Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei, who he doubts will confront Palestinian terrorists. But aides insisted Sharon was sincere in promising unilateral measures, noting the appointment this week of Major General Giora Eiland, Sharon’s new national security adviser, to head a team mapping out the details of his unilateral plan.

Veteran Sharon-watchers are split about his ultimate intentions. Some, such as Amir Oren of Ha’aretz, say the diplomatic moves are meant to deflect attention from Sharon’s own legal woes. Even so, Sharon may ultimately be trapped by his own words and forced into unilateral measures if only to contain the public’s growing impatience.

Find us on Facebook!
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.