Israel Update for September 2005

David Dolan
David Dolan

After successfully executing the first ever evacuation of Israeli citizens from their homes in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon struggled to remain in power during September. This came as thousands of Palestinians looted abandoned Jewish property in both areas, setting buildings on fire after stripping them of anything deemed valuable.

Others were busy breeching the Sinai border fence between Gaza and Egypt; reinforcing concerns in Israel that the crowded coastal zone may be transformed into a major, heavily armed terrorist center.

Late in the month, over two dozen Palestinian Kassam rockets were fired into Israeli territory over a period of several days, most of them aimed at the frequently-targeted Israeli town of Sderot, where a number of civilians were wounded. The audacious and unprovoked attacks triggered a quick Israeli response, including air strikes on several Hamas targets. A car carrying four Hamas terrorists in Gaza City was struck by helicopter-borne missiles, killing the occupants. This was followed by the massing of IDF troops and artillery along the northern Gaza border fence in preparation for more action ahead. Artillery shells were then fired into empty portions of the coastal zone, apparently both to calibrate the weapons and to issue a stern warning against any further rocket assaults.

Although they began the latest round of violence, Hamas leaders vowed to revenge Israel's response by launching terror attacks all over Israel. A Jewish resident of Jerusalem was then kidnapped and murdered, with his body discovered near Ramallah.


Noting that they had predicted such renewed Palestinian rocket attacks in the wake of the Gaza withdrawal, former Likud Party leader Binyamin Netanyahu and fired cabinet minister Uzi Landau both fierce opponents of the unilateral uprootings-challenged Sharon's tenuous hold over the sharply divided Likud by calling for an early internal party leadership vote in November. They contended that the move would help spark a necessary process to heal the gaping wounds that Sharon's withdrawal plan inflicted on the ruling party. The Likud leadership contest was originally scheduled for next April, with national Knesset elections due to be held by the end of November 2006.

Sharon's top aides again suggested that the Premier might bolt his party and form a new "centrist alliance" if the leadership contest was advanced, possibly bonding with Labor leader Shimon Peres and Shinui party chief Tommy Lapid. This only bolstered Netanyahu's charges that Sharon cares little for the fractured party, but mainly for his own personal career and place in history.

After dramatically resigning as Finance Minister just days before the Gaza uprootings began in mid-August, Netanyahu opened his Likud leadership bid with a fiery speech that poured scorn on the sitting PM. He said Sharon had nearly destroyed the conservative party, turning it into "an extension of the left wing Meretz party" headed by Oslo peace accord activist Yossi Beilen. Netanyahu vowed to move the Likud back toward the right if he becomes its next candidate for prime minister.

Without stating so outright, the former premier, who ran the country from mid-1996 until mid-1999, indicated he would not agree to any further Jewish evacuations from Samaria or Judea unless the Palestinian Authority unequivocally fulfills its initial Road Map peace plan commitment to fully disarm and dismantle terror groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Uzi
Landau went even further, stating he would ensure that no Palestinian state would ever arise in the disputed zones if he is elected Israel's next leader.

On the eve of the September 27th Likud Central Committee vote, opinion polls published in several newspapers predicted that Netanyahu and Landau would have their way. However the actual result was extremely close, with a slight majority of voting party members backing Sharon's position. Therefore, the ballot remains scheduled for next April. Analysts said the cliffhanger vote was a strong indication that the leadership contest will be extremely intense.


Just days before the Likud party vote, PM declared that his former Finance Minister was "unfit to lead" the country after "spreading fear and panic" over the Gaza withdrawal. He added that Israel's international standing would be severely eroded if the "land for peace" withdrawal process was completely halted.

Sharon pointed to unprecedented accolades that he personally received from several Muslim leaders, including Pakistan's President Musharraf, as evidence that international backing for Israel had significantly increased as a result of the Gaza-Samaria pullouts. He also noted that his actions had been publicly praised by George W. Bush and other world leaders who met with him at United Nations headquarters in New York. Indeed, Bush, Tony Blair and many others lauded Sharon for carrying out the controversial and emotive withdrawals, while calling for additional evacuations in the near future.

Netanyahu pointed out in response that almost identical claims had been made by PM Yitzhak Rabin in the wake of the September 1993 Oslo accord signing. He noted that the late leader's boasts proved entirely hollow in the end as the Palestinians gradually returned to the warpath, with the world subsequently heaping condemnations upon Israel for its unavoidable military response to the renewed violence and terrorism. Netanyahu predicted a similar outcome today-bolstered by a recent army intelligence report which forecasts an imminent renewed Palestinian attrition war, aided by Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Al Qaida.