Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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14 Adar I 5765 - February 23, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Israel Officially Decides: Disengagement to Begin in the Middle of Tammuz
Cabinet votes to complete fence around Yerushalayim; 500 prisoners released

by Mordecai Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

Last Sunday the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon overwhelmingly approved a unilateral withdrawal of all the Israeli settlements in Gaza and four in the northern West Bank by a vote of 17-5. The actual withdrawal can start no sooner than five months from the vote, and is currently scheduled to start on 13 Tammuz (July 20) — though that date may not be exact — and to last for nine weeks which means that it would end in the middle of Elul.

According to the original government decision last summer, the pullout is to take place in four separate stages with pauses between each stage and the following one, and a separate evaluation and vote before each stage. The original decision this week was to complete all four stages in nine weeks, but later remarks from the prime minister indicated that the entire process may be completed in as few as five weeks, and that some stages may be started before the previous stage has been completed. That would certainly violate the spirit of the original decision even if the original language may allow for the possibility.

The government decision enabled Sharon to sign evacuation orders for all the Jewish residents of the Gaza Strip and the residents of four settlements in the northern West Bank.

A law passed by the Knesset last week enabled the government vote on Sunday. The five-month delay between the decision and the actual evacuation is to give settlers time to organize their move and to receive compensation, since they may not have felt that the move is imminent until it was actually approved by the government. The same law provides for strict punishment of those refusing to move at the end of the five months.

The seven-hour Cabinet session opened with an emotional statement by Sharon, who called the pullout "a very, very difficult move — difficult for the residents of the settlements, difficult for the citizens of Israel, difficult for me and I am sure difficult for the ministers of this government. But it is vital for the future of the State of Israel."

The prime minister went into the meeting knowing he had a firm majority based on public statements made by the ministers and told the dissenters he would not make a last- ditch effort to persuade them to vote in favor of the withdrawals.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the press afterwards that the Palestinian Authority would ensure that the Gaza withdrawal takes place without any violence from the Palestinians, which is of major concern to the Israeli defense establishment. The Palestinians, Abbas said, would "throw flowers on the Israelis, not stones." Defense analysts had said that the terror groups would try to attack during the withdrawal to make it appear that they caused the Israelis to run away. Abbas apparently is not seeking to do this.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Education Minister Limor Livnat, who expressed opposition at various times, both voted in favor of the disengagement on Sunday. Both could easily have lost their jobs if they voted against Sharon.

Voting no were the ministers: Binyamin Netanyahu, Danny Naveh, Yisrael Katz, Tzachi Hanegbi, and Natan Sharansky.

Netanyahu said that he earlier voted in favor, but "in the absence of a referendum" he voted against. He is too important as the Finance Minister for Sharon to fire at this time. His policies appear to be working, and the economic establishment has confidence in his stewardship.

Minister Natan Sharansky also voted against the decision, and he was the only one who argued substantively against the move itself, saying that the Palestinians had to democratize more. He also complained about what he termed "the hatred and delegitimization" of the opponents of disengagement. He said that there are a number of steps that should be demanded of the Palestinians in addition to fighting terror, such as settling all Palestinians in normal homes and demolishing the refugee camps, and ending the incitement in the Palestinian media.

When Sharansky said that "it is clear to all that the disengagement is the first step on the road map," Sharon interjected that "there will be no automatic start on our part of the road map. We will only go on to the road map when the PA does all it has committed to do, like stopping the incitement, dismantling the terror organizations, conducting reforms and ceasing the violence."

The cabinet also voted 20-1 with one abstention to approve the route of the security barrier around Jerusalem where it does not already exist.

Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter warned that the new route could turn travelers on Road No. 443 into "sitting ducks." The route has been quiet for some time and is the main road from Yerushalayim to Modiin and Modiin Illit (Kiryat Sefer). The Shin Bet chief urged a return to the original route — which was changed in response to a High Court ruling — in which the fence passes north of Road 443.

The issue was not closed and is to be taken up by the political-security cabinet.

Minister Yisrael Katz was the fence's lone opponent.

On Monday Israel released 500 prisoners in a show of support for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian people and its leadership consider prisoner release a central indication of "progress" in the peace process. This could be a point of serious contention in the future.

In the past, the release of prisoners served to replenish the ranks of terrorists. A former security prisoner released in January 2004 in a deal with Hizbullah for the bodies of three soldiers and businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum was one of two gunmen shot and killed by soldiers a week ago while attempting an attack at Har Bracha, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post.

Atsem Mansour, 29, was imprisoned in Israel between October 2001 and January 2004 for terrorism. He was one of 462 security prisoners released in exchange for Tannenbaum and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers killed on the Lebanese border.

500 prisoners were released at this time. Israel initially agreed to release 900 security detainees, but only 500 were released so far this week. Security officials said the remaining 400 have yet to be approved, and a time for their release has not been decided.

Only 200 of the 500 Palestinian prisoners released this week served two-thirds of their sentences which would normally make them eligible for parole. The High Court rejected a petition against the release by an organization of terror victims. The state's attorney told the Court that of the other 300 released, 120 were security detainees to whom the criterion of time served did not apply since they were not serving a sentence, while another 180 prisoners had yet to serve two-thirds of the sentences they had been given in court.

The security establishment's most current statistics about prisoner release relate to the May 1985 "Jibril deal" in which more than 1,000 prisoners were released: Of the 238 of them released to the West Bank and Gaza, 48 percent, or 114, resumed terrorist activities eventually, as far as is known.


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