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Israeli expulsion idea gains steam

The Moledet party's media blitz for the mass expulsion of Palestinians is gaining momentum.

By Ben LynfieldSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / February 6, 2002


Spurred on by public despair, Israeli advocates of a mass expulsion of Palestinians are gaining strength and legitimacy as the toll of Palestinian attacks inside Israel continues to rise.

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Tourism Minister Benny Elon of the far-right Moledet party this week launched a campaign advocating "transfer," a euphemism for expulsion, which he says can also connote an agreed relocation of Palestinians.

In addition to Mr. Elon's push for transfer in a series of interviews on Israel's television channels and in major newspapers, Moledet has put up billboards in Tel Aviv saying that "Only transfer will bring peace."

The idea of a removal of Arabs - voluntary or otherwise - is almost as old as Zionism itself, but today it is taking on fresh legitimacy with the collapse of the Oslo peace process and the demise of the implicit bargain of land and eventual Palestinian statehood for peace.

Elon says that under conditions of war, Israel has the right to bring upon the Palestinians "another nakba," or catastrophe, similar to 1948, when an estimated 700,000 of them were expelled or fled during the Arab-Israeli war.

"There is great disappointment and confusion. People are saying we have had enough, we have seen wars and we have seen the Oslo agreement with all of its bloodshed," says Elon. "I want to remind them of this platform and to remove the taboo from public discussion. It is intolerable that the Arabs should think that, every time, they can drain our blood and then we will negotiate with them."

The transfer idea is dismissed outright by Likud Justice Minister Meir Shetreet, who often reflects centrist Israeli opinion. "It is unacceptable to us in every form. We want to live with the Arabs in peace and quiet," he says.

But significantly, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has not repudiated the idea of a mass expulsion. Sharon, says his spokesman, would like to expel the Palestinians, but does not believe this can be carried out under the present conditions.

"There is a difference between wishful thinking and realpolitik," explains Sharon's spokesman, Ra'anan Gissin. "If the Palestinians would have a change of heart and move elsewhere, OK, but Sharon realizes transfer cannot be done because of the stance of the Israeli public. What Elon is saying is not something that today seems possible."

Mr. Sharon appeared to endorse mass expulsions of Palestinians in October. In a Knesset speech, he lauded assassinated Tourism Minister Rehavam "Gandhi" Zeevi of Moledet, whose career was based on the transfer idea, as a true heir of Zionist founding fathers and vowed: "Gandhi, we will be victorious."

Ha'aretz newspaper called on Sharon Sunday to expel Elon from the coalition or else be tainted by "the disgrace of the transfer idea."

Intensified espousal of extremist solutions on the right is coinciding with increasingly strident voices at the other end of the political spectrum: doves who argue that it is the Jewish settlers, not the Palestinians, who should leave the West Bank and Gaza Strip.