JERUSALEM — In the face of a new wave of death threats and a fresh challenge from his top Likud Party rival, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is pushing ahead with his unilateral disengagement plan.
Sharon’s security cabinet voted 9-to-1 Tuesday to approve a range of proposals governing evacuation and compensation of settlers under the disengagement initiative. The decisions could pave the way for advance payments in the coming days or weeks to settlers willing to be relocated voluntarily from the 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the northern West Bank slated for removal under Sharon’s plan.
The vote came a day after Sharon’s top Likud rival, Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made a surprise declaration calling for a national referendum on disengagement. Opponents of disengagement had raised the referendum idea in recent days, leading to speculation that Netanyahu was boosting the idea to gain support among the Likud’s right flank in advance of a possible showdown against Sharon if early elections take place.
Sharon and his allies are dismissed the idea of a national referendum, saying that such a process would cause unacceptable delays in the implementation of the disengagement plan.
Meanwhile, police are investigating death threats recently made against Sharon and Yonatan Bassi, the head of the new Disengagement Administration.
The calls were received at the Disengagement Administration headquarters at the Givat Shaul industrial zone in Jerusalem, said Jerusalem police chief Ilan Franco during a Tuesday briefing with reporters.
“We are dealing with telephone threats received in the past few days,” he said. “The death threats were made against the prime minister and [administration] personnel. One of the callers made threats to physically harm the prime minister.”
Franco said that Jerusalem police had made catching the callers a high priority, and he voiced the hope that arrests would be made in the coming days. In the meantime, police have increased their patrols around the administration building and bolstered police protection for Bassi and other administration staff.
The director of the Shin Bet security service, Avi Dichter, warned the government two months ago of increased activity by extreme right-wingers in the wake of the publication of the disengagement plan, and of the measures to implement it.
In July, Tzachi Hanegbi, who then was public security minister, said that “there is no doubt — there are people who, to my knowledge, have taken the decision that when the times comes, they will ‘save the nation of Israel.’ They will try to take the lives of ministers, the prime minister, and army and police personnel.”
Defense establishment sources backed up Hanegbi’s comments, saying that the Shin Bet believes right-wing extremists are capable of attempting assassinations in order to prevent the implementation of the disengagement plan.
But the security sources also pointed out that there is no concrete intelligence indicating specific assassination plans by any group or individual. Nor, said the sources, have there been any recorded conversations showing a clear intent to harm or kill political figures including the prime minister.
According to the sources, the Shin Bet view is based on a forecast of a “slippery slope” of growing rabbinic and public legitimation for those right-wing extremists who threaten attacks on political figures and security forces during the disengagement process.
Fears of attempted assassinations have run high since 1995, when Yigal Amir killed then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin during a peace rally in Tel Aviv.