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A Layman's Guide To WWIII:
Who's Who in Israeli Politics
By Kevin Filan

National Religious Party

Haredim   |  Israeli Arabs   |  Likud   |  Labor   |  Nat. Religious Party   |  Shas

In the poorest sections of Tel Aviv a small 2-room apartment will set you back over $100,000; you will need to put up 30% to 50% of that in cash as a down payment. Since the average Israeli earns approximately $18,000 a year, finding a place to live can be a real hardship, particularly for families. For many, the only option is state-subsidized housing in settlements located in the "Occupied West Bank and Gaza," also known as "Judea and Samaria." These settlements have been supported with generous state subsidies and tax breaks; a home which costs $250,000 in Israel proper can be had for around $100,000 in the settlements. As a result, more first-time mortgages are currently being given for development in the settlements than in Israel proper.

This break in housing costs comes with a price; the settlements have been regularly targeted by mortars, gunfire, suicide bombers, and assassins. Few settlements have escaped unscathed, and the Palestinian Authority has done nothing to stop assaults on the "usurping Zionists." Adding insult to injury, many have come to see the settlements as the single greatest obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Citing personnel shortages, some have even recommended withdrawing IDF protection from the settlements, leaving them defenseless against a hostile Palestinian population. Unsurprisingly, many settlers have come to feel increasingly besieged and isolated … and political views within the settlements have turned increasingly toward the far right.

Effie Eitam's National Religious Party garners much of its support from these settlers. A decorated war hero who served in Lebanon and who was involved in the famous 1976 "Raid on Entebee" to free a hijacked El Al airliner, Eitam is also a devout Orthodox Jew. He has close ties to groups like Gush Emunim and the Yesha Council of Gaza, Judea and Samaria, organizations which combine Orthodoxy with militant Zionism and see the West Bank and Gaza as part of the "Jewish birthright." His solution to the Palestinian problem is a simple one - a transfer of the majority of the Palestinian population to Jordan and the Sinai desert. As Interior Minister, he has "encouraged" this relocation by methods like refusing to grant permits for water usage to Palestinian farmers.

Eitam is opinionated and abrasive even by Israeli standards. He was recently censured by Prime Minister Sharon after public statements calling Labor Minister Ben-Elizer a "traitor" and a "coward." Some have compared him to Meir Kahane, founder of the JDL and head of the now-outlawed extremist Kach movement; many have referred to him as a dangerous fascist. For now Eitam remains on Israel's far right… but it would not be wise to count him out of the picture entirely. Once upon a time Ariel Sharon was seen as an extremist hawk; today, many Israelis consider him too "soft" on Palestinian terrorism. Should the settlements continue to grow, and should the attacks on those settlements continue, Eitam's base of support will only expand. While his religious views may worry more secular Israelis (some of whom have accused him of "Messianic" tendencies), his military credentials are impeccable. His notoriously prickly exterior may make it difficult for him to form a coalition, but he will almost certainly play kingmaker in several Israeli elections to come.

 


Mike Doughty



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