- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

TEL AVIV — Amid eroding public support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, a top adviser to the prime minister warned this week that the government isn’t ready to evacuate some 9,000 Jewish settlers.

The unusual in-house criticism put Mr. Sharon on the defensive and boosted opponents of the withdrawal during the worst spate of violence with the Palestinians since a February peace summit.

An Israeli aircraft fired a missile at a group of Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip yesterday, according to news agencies, a day after militants rocketed an Israeli settlement.

The latest violence came as Mr. Sharon held a public Cabinet meeting on the disengagement to counter the impression that the pullout has bogged down.

“The evacuation will be carried out exactly according to the schedule set by the government,” Mr. Sharon told the ministers.

A day before, a letter authored by Mr. Sharon’s national security adviser, Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland , was made public in which he said the government is running behind schedule in implementation of the pullout plan.

He also criticized the Sharon administration for dithering on setting a deadline for settlers to accept or reject relocation assistance. Because the government hasn’t reached an agreement with the settlers on a compensation package, it has created a false impression that no help is being offered, he said.

“There is a danger of the creation of an image of chaos,” Gen. Eiland said in an interview with Israel Radio, which first reported the news of the letter. There is a “murky situation,” he said.

Gen. Eiland said the government isn’t doing a good enough job of explaining to Israelis how the pullback is being handled, but that postponing the move wouldn’t help. The uncertainty has helped erode public backing for the move, according to two recent polls.

A survey sponsored by Israeli Channel 1 television indicated that support for the pullout has dropped to around 50 percent from more than 60 percent. A poll commissioned by a talk show on Israel Channel 2 television claimed that backing for the disengagement had dipped below 50 percent.

The publication of Gen. Eiland’s letter prompted right-wing opponents of the initiative to call for a delay of the pullout, which already has been pushed back almost a month to accommodate a religious observance.

Now the chorus of critics includes some Israeli doves, who say that leaving Gaza, by itself, won’t improve Israeli security.

“If the disengagement doesn’t lead to an immediate permanent-status agreement, it will bring a disaster on Israelis and the Palestinians,” said Yossi Beilin, leader of the left-wing Yachad Party, in an interview published in Ma’ariv.

“The withdrawal from Gaza without anything in return and without an agreement will strengthen Hamas and weaken moderates.”

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