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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Right is in danger of losing public support for retaining the Jordan Valley, a strategic adviser to Prime Minister Sharon said Sunday.
Speaking Sunday at the College of Judea and Samaria, Lior Chorev warned a right-wing audience that many of their arguments for retaining land taken in 1967 were falling short with the majority of Israelis. He added that the Jordan Valley was much like Gush Katif, noting that only 5,000 Jews live there.
"If we ask how many Israelis today feel connected to the Jordan Valley, the answer is very disturbing," Chorev said. "It is necessary to sound every possible alarm, because if you don't convince the public every morning that the Jordan Valley is important - and not because Yigal Allon said so 30 years ago or because of the theological perspective - we will lose the battle [over it]."
"As someone who believes that the Jordan Valley is of a strategic value that the pragmatic center, Left and Right in Israel recognize, I believe we have failed to make it flower, and this fact is greatly disturbing to me," Chorev told The Jerusalem Post.
Sharon's spokesman said that Chorev made the statement as his own opinion and that it does not reflect the opinion of the prime minister and it was not a trial balloon.
Speaking at a panel on the disengagement and the struggle over public opinion, which took place at the fourth David Bar-Ilan Conference on the Media and the Middle East, Chorev argued that public policy was not enough to maintain the public's belief in the necessity of holding on to the Jordan Valley, and that the lack of such conviction was dangerous because it could lead to an eventual political loss.
Discussing the tactical thinking behind Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's media campaign in favor of the disengagement from Gaza, Chorev said he believed that the failure of disengagement opponents was not their lack of rational arguments or the number of people they managed to bring to public demonstrations. Rather, he said, the problem was that they based their battle "on a captive audience that was very stereotypical" - that of religious men and women.
Chorev also said that the lack of willingness on the part of disengagement opponents to consider a trade-off option, such as accepting the withdrawal from Gaza in return for a decision to annex the West Bank, stemmed from a fear of setting a precedent for future trade-offs.
"I think the lesson of the disengagement from Gaza has not been learned," Chorev said. "If we take Jerusalem as an example, the question is whether we will fight for the Holy Basin or for Abu Dis. If you ask the leaders of Yesha, they will tell you that Abu Dis is Jerusalem, but most of the Israeli public does not think so. If there won't be a trade-off option in the battle over public opinion, disengagement opponents are going to have a difficult time."
Another Sharon adviser, Eyal Arad, said at a conference on September 29 that "if we see, over time, that the impasse [with the Palestinians] continues, then even though Israel's diplomatic situation is comfortable, we might consider turning the disengagement into an Israeli strategy. Israel would determine its borders independently."
Chorev contrasted the attitude of secular Israelis towards the West Bank and Gaza with its attitude to the Golan Heights. He argued that the Israeli consensus could identify with the values of settlers in the Golan in a way they could not with settlers in Judea, Samaria, and Gush Katif, and would therefore be opposed to a future deal with Syria.
"Don't be so quick to blame the public," Chorev said, addressing himself to opponents of the disengagement. "Instead, ask: 'Where did we go wrong?'"
Yuval Porat, the CEO of Spin Public Opinion and one of the strategists behind the Yesha campaign against the disengagement from Gaza, essentially agreed with Chorev that the Israeli public identified the battle against disengagement as a sectoral one, and was therefore less inclined to listen to the arguments of disengagement opponents.
Speaking on the same panel as Chorev, Porat said that he believed that "the problem of the Israeli right is a long-term problem, which can be dealt with only by creating a clearly defined, secular ideological right."
Such a new right, Porat argued, could create a broad base of supporters only by going behind the sectoral body defined by a national-religious agenda.
Porat posited the possibility of a future conservative right-wing party in Israel that would be based on the model of the Republican party in the US, and which would maintain its connection to the religious right while creating a leadership able to appeal to a broader constituency.
"If we look ahead to other battles," Porat said, "I don't believe they can be decided by slogans and demonstrations. The problem is much more structural, and the only long-term solution is a structural one."
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.