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Behind the Headlines Prelude to a Stormy Era

Recently the Knesset held a long voting session on a procedural issue: should the approaching negotiations between Israel and Jordan on the future of the West Bank be discussed in the plenum or in one of the Knesset committees? Four “hawkish” motions for the agenda–three of them similar– were submitted to the Speaker. Four “doveish” motions were submitted for discussion in order to oppose the “hawkish” motion. Each of the eight motions was voted on twice: first, by the regular procedure of a show of hands, and then, on the demand of several MKs, a vote count by two members, one from each side of the House.

The long and tiring procedure (which ended with the motions being moved to committee) reflected the strong emotions which the topic at issue aroused. The obedience required by members of the coalition was not kept. The voting was accompanied by shouting and interruptions. A few days later, July 26, a group of 150 youngsters, all of them Orthodox, tried to settle at Sebastia near Nablus.

One of the most influential commentators warned that the atmosphere created by this attempt might lead the country to the verge of civil war. About 15 MKs from the religious parties and the Likud came to Sebastia to encourage the settlers. Their visit was denounced by other MKs, including some from their own parties. The attempt led to violent demonstrations in Jerusalem and near Beersheba (at the farm of MK Ariel Sharon who supported the settlers).

Opinion in the Israeli press was divided. One could find various publicists expressing different views in the same newspapers. Those who backed the attempt to settle the West Bank town called it a patriotic step. They believed it was a real fulfillment of Zionist ideals. The commentators who opposed the operation stressed its illegality. One of the most important dailies called the settlers “invaders.”

GRAVITY OF THE WEST BANK ISSUE

The government was also divided on the issue. There were members in the Cabinet who called for immediate and forceful evacuation of the settlers. Other members supported more moderate means. They advised waiting in order to influence the youngsters to leave on their own free will.

There were signs that the differences of opinion reached the army, too. Publicists wondered how the settlers had succeeded in reaching Sebastia despite army measures designed to prevent them. Some commentators said that there had been soldiers who allowed the settlers to move to their objective, thus defying orders. There were even allegations in the press that the settlers were not stopped efficiently because Defense Minister Shimon Peres did not give explicit orders to the army. (The truth is probably different; the settlers succeeded in deceiving the soldiers and circumvented the roadblocks).

All these expressions of suspicion, differences of opinion, ideological controversy and emotional dispute indicated how grave the issue of the West Bank will be for Israel society. The debate in the Knesset and the settlement attempt near Nablus were only a prelude. The real trouble will start once Israel begins negotiations with Jordan when a territorial compromise will become a reality.

In order to cope with such a complicated problem the nation needs a strong leadership. Without a strong and clear guidance from the leadership, confusion and anarchy may replace law and order. In order to achieve authoritative leadership, present political alignments will have to change. This is the view by many commentators and analysts as well as many Israelis.

Many Israelis believe that the present political blocs cannot exist for long. A moment will come when the party configurations will be reshuffled according to the attitude of individual politicians regarding the future of Judea and Samaria. Only then will a real decision be possible. The public, analysts note, will be able to choose between two blocs: one that stands for the idea of a large Israel, and second that supports the aim of a political settlement on the basis of Israeli territorial concessions.

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