- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2005

No sooner out of the starting blocks on a rerun of the Mideast peace process than an avalanche threatens to close the road. This time it is not the Palestinians and the long-running shell game whose champion player was the late Yasser Arafat. Israeli commentators already refer to the gathering storm as “the third intifada.”

Writing in Yediot Ahronot, a leading Israeli newspaper, Nahum Barnea expects in the coming months, “a furious, hurt community … prepared to take violent action and a leadership that is forced to line up behind the threats of the militants. This is a dangerous game of brinksmanship and judging by past experience, is liable to end up in disaster.”

Writing in the same paper, Dalia Rabin, the late prime minister’s daughter, said: “Wake up before it is too late. If we don’t [act now] to stop the deterioration, we will once again witness the horrible spectacle of the murder of another prime minister.” Next fall will mark the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, which was preceded by the same hate rhetoric now echoing throughout Israel.

Jane’s Foreign Report, the authoritative weekly intelligence digest, says hundreds of Orthodox rabbis, including some in the armed forces, have called on Israeli Defense Force soldiers to refuse to uproot Gaza and the West Bank settlements.

The movement “Defensive Shield” claims to have collected 10,000 pledges of soldiers and reservists to refuse orders to dismantle any of 21 Gaza and 145 West Bank settlements. They house 8,200 and 243,000 Jewish settlers respectively.

“Israel’s army, long considered one of the main pillars of the Jewish state and a great social equalizer, is in grave danger of being politicized,” said Foreign Report. It has been infiltrated by rightwingers for more than a decade — Orthodox seminary graduates and hard-line settlers. Some estimates have diehard rightwingers at 30 percent of the IDF officer corps.

Outgoing Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon, 54, who was not given the almost routine one-year extension to the normal three-year term, has already publicly warned the army may fall apart over forcible evacuation of settlers. About a dozen reserve battalions are to be mobilized during the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, which begins next July. Shin Bet (internal security) chief Avi Dichter warned at the start of the year “rightwing extremists and diehard settlers were planning to provoke bloodshed when the army moves in to evacuate settlements.”

There were also warnings of possible plots to attack Islam’s third holiest shrine, the Al Aqsa Mosque to provoke Palestinians into retaliation and sabotage the Gaza disengagement plan.

When the Knesset last week approved the Gaza settlements’ dismantling, it set aside $1 billion for resettlement. Many settlers plan to move to West Bank colonies that will also have to be removed if a viable Palestinian state is to be created. But Edward Abington, a former U.S. consul general in Jerusalem who now advises the Palestinian Authority, said settlement expansion was “proceeding at a very rapid pace all over the West Bank. They are encircling East Jerusalem with settlements and roads only settlers can use.”

Seventeen members of Prime Minister Sharon’s Likud Party voted against the Gaza withdrawal. One began a roll call of Jews set to “deportation,” adding after each name “Jew, designated for expulsion.” But far leftwing and Arab parties rushed into the breach and saved the day for Mr. Sharon.

West Bank and Gaza rabbis say the Torah forbids Jews from abandoning any part of the biblical lands, and the settlers are duty bound to resist. Settlers wearing Star of David armbands, reminiscent of what Adolf Hitler’s Brownshirts forced Jews to wear, have handed out leaflets calling Sharon “Hitler’s partner.”

Rowdies have already roughed up Cabinet ministers, some of whom even received death threats aimed at their children. M.J. Rosenberg’s weekly newsletter says Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit, who lost a child to cancer, was told he would soon attend funerals of his remaining children and that his late daughter’s death was God’s punishment for his ideology.

The Yesha Council, the settler movement’s leadership, has endorsed a call to resist evacuation through civil disobedience. The fear is it won’t stop there.

On her first trip to the Middle East as secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice signaled the U.S. expected concessions from the Sharon government to help build a democratic Palestine. She called this “hard decisions.” That clearly meant the U.S. expected more than the evacuation of Gaza and four insignificant illegal outposts in the northern West Bank.

Little did Miss Rice realize how even a no-brainer like the Gaza evacuation could trigger something as huge as a third intifada.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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