October 29, 1998
Settlers and far-right groups attack Netanyahu and the Wye Plantation agreement
"Binyamin Netanyahu is no longer the leader of the national camp," Aharon Domb, general secretary of the West Bank and Gaza Jewish settlers' council, said this week, with all the finality of a judge pronouncing sentence.
Arutz Sheva, the settlers' pirate radio station, called on army officers to refuse to implement the 13-percent redeployment agreed at the Wye Plantation. They reminded their listeners that Col. Eli Geva, commander of an armored brigade in the 1982 Lebanon War, resigned when he was ordered to shell Beirut.
The Chabad movement, which threw its weight decisively behind Netanyahu in the final week of the 1996 election campaign with the slogan "Netanyahu is good for the Jews," disowned him. "The prime minister has lost his right to be a trusted representative of the public," its Israeli rabbis announced.
In a four-column advertisement on the front page of the Jerusalem Post, nine far-right groups thundered at Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon: "You are responsible for this shameful agreement. We voted for you and we put you in power. We will remember. We won't forget. And we won't forgive."
The 160,000 West Bank settlers are not buying Netanyahu's pitch that his heart is with them, that he "fought like a lion" for every inch of the sacred homeland, or that he "plugged the holes in the Swiss cheese" that was the Oslo agreement.
They don't trust the Palestinians to fulfill their security commitments or to annul the clauses in their national charter that call for the destruction of the Jewish state. What they see is that 18 of their communities will now be surrounded by Palestinian-controlled territory and that Israel's security services will no longer be able to hunt down terrorists in areas being transferred from partial to full self-rule.
They are incensed by a barely noticed phrase in the Wye agreement that pledges Israel to fight "terrorism" by Jews against Arabs, just as Yasser Arafat will fight "terrorism" by Arabs against Jews.
"For the past 25 years," Yisrael Medad, a veteran of the Shilo settlement north of Ramallah, said, "PLO propaganda has branded Israel a terrorist state. Arafat waged war against us by defining the settlers as terrorists. Now Bibi is allowing him to claim that we are indeed terrorists and, thus, are a legitimate target."
Aharon Domb, who has a reputation as a moderate, accused the prime minister of "treason," but amended it to "surrender" when he was reminded that it sounded too much like the language which preceded Yitzhak Rabin's assassination three years ago.
"We are worshiping the golden calf," he said. "In our generation, this idol goes by the name of 'peace.' My colleagues and I will strive to undermine this horrible thing which is crowned the 'peace agreement,' by all possible democratic means."
The settlers' council resolved to bring down the government. Yet, when Domb was asked to name their candidate to fight Netanyahu, he hedged. The settlers are furious. They believe that the prime minister led them up the garden path. But they are frustrated because they recognize that they cannot mobilize the kind of mass support that rallied against the 1993 Oslo accord.
A poll published in Yediot Aharonot on Sunday found 74 percent of Israelis welcoming the Wye deal as a "good" agreement. Only 18 percent thought it was "not good." The weekend pray-ins to block West Bank road junctions soon petered out into nothing more than a photo opportunity.
"If you get 50 people out," said Eve Harow, a Los Angeles-born founder of the militant Women in Green, "you've done well. The passion isn't there. People feel there's no point any more. With Rabin and Peres, we had a replacement. Now what are we going to do? I don't see any viable right-wing leadership. Bibi will win again. Even if the left doesn't vote for him, the center will. We felt he was one of ours, but he's cut us off at the knees."
For all that, Harow, a member of the local council in Efrat, between Bethlehem and Hebron, was determined to fight on.
"As a religious person," she said, "I have to show faith that something better is around the corner. I have to stick it out, but it's difficult.
"I have seven children, and I see devastating times ahead. The Palestinians are still committed to the destruction of all of Israel. I see no way around a war, not now that they're going to have 40 percent of the West Bank."