Settlers weigh anti-pullout options

Wallerstein: Yesha currently formulating plan, to be announced in two days time.

yaalon mofaz 298 (photo credit: IDF [file])
yaalon mofaz 298
(photo credit: IDF [file])
Stung by an election which has likely produced a government favoring unilateral withdrawal from lands captured in 1967, settler groups are weighing their options for how best to oppose further land concessions. Given the results of the election, at least 60 and likely a few more Jewish members of the 17th Knesset can be counted on to vote for unilateral withdrawals from at least part of the West Bank, seemingly securing a majority for Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's convergence plan. With their political power weaker than it has been in decades, settler leaders are still licking their wounds, and no clear cut strategy has been developed to combat Olmert's plan. But Binyamin Regional Council head Pinhas Wallerstein said the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip was currently formulating a plan which it would announce in two days. Wallerstein said that the election had not provided a clear-cut majority for disengagement, with only three parties - Kadima, Labor and Meretz - including it in their platforms. Thus, he said, the election was not the referendum on further withdrawals that Kadima and its likely coalition allies were looking for. "Olmert can [unilaterally withdraw], but what will happen in Israeli society if he will dare to do it without any moral standing?" Wallerstein said. "I can't believe that would happen." In general, the plan the settler council was forming would be one which concentrates efforts on the ground and away from the political arena, Wallerstein said. "The leaders of the right-wing parties will lead the political fight," he said. As the council deliberates, prominent settler leaders outside its ranks are already suggesting that a new leadership must emerge for the right-wing, which they complain currently lacks anyone who can meet the significant challenge of preventing the forced evacuation of settlements. "Only the Messiah can lead the right-wing right now," Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shaul Goldstein said jokingly. "We don't see someone who is clean, who really thinks about the benefit of Israel and is not corrupt. We don't have such leaders now; everyone is connected to powerful families." In a few years, Goldstein said, former chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon could probably assume the mantel. "Obviously, the alternative today is [Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor] Lieberman. But his plan is not really a right-wing plan," he said. Leadership aside, the settler movement and the right-wing, Goldstein said, needed to come up with a clearly defined social initiative which they have lacked until now. Equally important was to do away with the "bunker mentality" that settler leaders have engaged in since plans for the Gaza disengagement were announced and to begin to "talk and act in a language people will understand," he said. "[We've been] speaking our language and expecting the entire society will understand us and help our goals of pioneering activities and that doesn't happen." Forgoing the political process just because settler interests were a minority in the Knesset was a mistake, said David Wilder, the spokesman for Hebron's Jewish community. He said it was incumbent on the settler movement to strongly lobby swing-voting MKs in the Gil Pensioners Party and United Torah Judaism. "The pro-disengagement forces still have a long way to go in their work," Wilder said. "We have allies there and we can still stop it politically." Though the 10 votes from Arab parties would probably guarantee Olmert the legal backing for another disengagement, the settler movement is banking on the public's strong distaste for the Arab parties to provide the swing votes in such an important decision. For their part, leaders of the Gush Katif evacuees - many of whom sat out the elections because they said there was no one who represented them - felt deeply discouraged that it would be possible to prevent further pullouts. The only hope for the settler movement, said Yoram Musavi, the leader of the Forum for Those Injured in the Disengagement, was to show the public what disengagement did to those who had lived in Gaza. "If the people understand that disengagement didn't give anything to the State of Israel, maybe they will understand it will give us nothing to leave Judea and Samaria," he said. His other minimal hope for a swing of momentum back to the settler movement was the two-thirds of voters (one-third who opposed and one-third who did not cast ballots) who did not actively chose a government bent on further disengagement.