This week, the polls, which over the past several months have registered a gradual yet consistent erosion of public support for the plan, showed that today only 48 percent of the public supports it.
In its attempts to defend its increasingly precarious position, the government has reacted wildly to its critics. Rather than increase public support, its moves have simply added to the general sense that the Sharon-Peres government has lost control of events and, in its zeal to defend its controversial program, it is willing to sacrifice the nation's security and its own morality.
The reasons for the increase in public opposition to the plan are varied, but they all redound to the fact that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's current governing coalition has no reason to exist other than to implement the withdrawal plan. Because of this, everything that occurs domestically, diplomatically and militarily, is viewed by the public through the prism of the withdrawal plan.
In recent weeks there has been a steep increase in local media coverage of violent crime. A 14-year-old is brutally attacked by bullies in school and the story is given five minutes of coverage on prime-time television newscasts. The murder of a 15-year-old girl by a glue-sniffing juvenile delinquent is front-page news for two days.
While the increase in violent crime, or at least the increase in media attention to violent crime, has nothing to do with the planned withdrawal and expulsion plan, it is linked to the plan in the eye of the public because rather than fight crime, thousands of police officers are training to carry out the expulsion of law abiding citizens from their homes this August. And rather than try criminals, the courts are clogged with juveniles arrested for blocking traffic in protest of the withdrawal plan.
In recent weeks the fact that there has been a steep decline in the Bush administration's support for Israel, matched by a steep increase in the administration pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinian Authority, has become undeniable. The fact that Washington has even considered opening discussions with Hamas is evidence of the fact that, if nothing else, the government has completely failed in explaining the actual situation in the Palestinian war against Israel to the administration. And of course it has.
In order to justify their withdrawal and expulsion plan both domestically and internationally, Sharon and his associates have had to proclaim their support for PA chieftain Mahmoud Abbas. This they have done even as Abbas has done everything in his power to support and strengthen terrorist organizations. To the extent that Abbas is weak, his weakness is due to the fact that the terrorists don't believe that his support has been sufficient.
But because Sharon has publicly supported Abbas, the Americans feel justified in pressuring Israel for more concessions to him. The government cannot publicly admit that Abbas is part of the problem, and that strengthening him will only make matters worse because doing so will merely point to the absurdity of the planned withdrawal and expulsion.
So too, the government has been completely incompetent in contending with the increased military capabilities and terrorist assaults by the Palestinian terrorist organizations and with the open collusion between Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah with the PA militias and the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt. Last Thursday, Sharon's personal attorney Dov Weisglass dismissed the threat emanating from Kassam rockets by referring to them as mere "flying objects." When these "flying objects" destroyed a home in Sderot on Tuesday and killed three people in the hothouses in Gush Katif, the general public could not ignore the fact that those "flying objects" are deadly weapons and that in attempting to defend its increasingly indefensible policy the government is making war on its political opponents instead of fighting the nation's enemies.
In his first public comments since assuming the mantle of IDF Chief of General Staff, Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz stood before the cameras in Sderot on Tuesday and told the nation that all these attacks on Israel were merely the result of Palestinian turf wars and that the attacks on Israel endangered the Palestinian Authority more than they endangered Israel. The absurdity of his remarks, made in the shadow of the destroyed apartment building, and at the same time as Abbas is doing everything he can to legitimize Hamas both domestically and internationally, could not have been more glaring.
Indeed, in response to the IDF's peevish attack on terrorists poised to launch Kassam rockets in Gaza on Wednesday, Abbas condemned Israel and said that Israel was bringing about the collapse of the cease-fire, as if his own forces weren't actively colluding with Hamas, Fatah and Islamic Jihad terror squads who launched their rockets, mortars and anti-tank missiles this week within spitting distance from his military posts and as if Israel hadn't arrested 15 would-be suicide bombers over the past month.
The Keystone Kops-style machinations of the government might be a source of ironic amusement if the government's signature policy didn't have such dangerous consequences for Israel. Last Friday, on the eve of his hand-over of command to Halutz, Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon gave an in-depth interview to Haaretz in which he said, among other things, that given the fact that the Palestinians continue to reject Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, the notion of a "two-state" solution west of the Jordan River is a recipe for war. Of the government's current withdrawal plan, Ya'alon stated that if it is implemented, the Palestinians would pocket Gaza and then relaunch their terror war against Israel from Judea and Samaria. In his words, "I have no doubt that they will have an interest in demonstrating that after the pullout from Gaza there will be a period of quiet there. 'You left Gaza? You get quiet. You will leave Judea and Samaria? You will get quiet. Leave Tel Aviv and things will be completely quiet.'"
Ya'alon's statements were quickly backed up by retired security brass from across the political spectrum in Tuesday's edition of Ma'ariv. These former Mossad chiefs and IDF generals noted that the plan will erode Israel's international standing; place pressure on Israel for more and deeper withdrawals and expulsions in Judea and Samaria; set a precedent for a retreat to the 1949 armistice lines including a redivision of Jerusalem; and increase vastly the capabilities and the motivation of the Palestinians and the Arab world generally to reignite the terror war against Israel in the fall.
The government's reaction to these cautionary notes was to denounce the critics as gasbags and to ratchet up its rhetoric against the residents it is set to expel and their supporters. Rather than contending with the content of Ya'alon's arguments, Sharon Wednesday responded dubiously that during his entire tour of duty as Chief of General Staff, Ya'alon had never made these points to him.
Given the fact that the government has inextricably linked its fortunes to the success of its irrational and dangerous withdrawal and expulsion plan, Sharon and his partners are unable to respond to attacks against them with anything other than venom, bravado and hysteria.
The public's abandonment of its support for the government is a direct result of this state of affairs and, given the consistency of the downward trend in support that preceded its loss of the majority, there can be no doubt that the government is on its way to collapse. The only question that remains open today is whether the government will collapse before or after it implements its ruinous policy.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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