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Nothing New on Ron Arad


Responding to a question on Ron Arad posed by Minister Eliezer Sandberg at Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stated that to his sorrow, efforts during the past year to develop new channels of information on the captured air force navigator failed. This weekend marked 18 years since Arad fell into captivity.

Israeli Settlers say Sharon Rejects Call for Gaza Referendum

By VOA News, & Ha'aretz

Jewish settler leaders said Sunday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has rejected their proposal to put his controversial Gaza withdrawal plan to a public vote. After meeting with Sharon, settler leaders told reporters that Sharon "totally rejected" their call for a referendum. The Sharon blueprint calls for the evacuation of about 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip and four small West Bank settlements by 2006.

Referendum advocates said the vote could ensure political stability. But the prime minister said his opponents are trying to stall the evacuation timetable. Sharon - once seen as a champion of Israeli settlement construction on land captured in the 1967 war - is set to present his withdrawal plan to the Israeli parliament on October 25.

Terming the meeting a "disgrace," Yesha leaders said the Prime Minister "has disengaged from the people." "Sharon has new friends-the left," said Pinchas Wallerstein, head of the Binyamin Regional Council in Samaria.

The Prime Minister told the opponents to his plan to dismantle Jewish communities in Gush Katif and northern Samaria. He said, "I will remove everything but will make every effort to save as much as possible in Judea and Samaria."

Sharon demanded the Yesha leaders to stop encouraging soldiers to refuse orders during the proposed evacuation. He also said that holding a referendum would be a precedent to have national votes on other major issues.

The Yesha leaders reminded the Prime Minister of his 10-year-old speech in which Sharon exhorted a large crowd of anti-Oslo demonstrators, "I want to ask all of you not to show weakness! They are conducting polls now, and they're asking whether you would be willing to evacuate your home in exchange for high compensation and another apartment somewhere else. If they ask you that, tell them, we're planning to buy another apartment [in Yesha]! Send them home!"

Sharon also told the leaders Sunday that he is determined to carry out his promise to the United States to evacuate dozens of illegal outposts. He said he was doing all he could to save what areas of the West Bank he could in the face of the U.S.'s position, as well as that of the rest of the world and the political parties in Israel. "Don't pretend to represent the nation more than I," said Sharon, "I have no intention of caving into the threats of rabbis. I have complete freedom and a mandate to act."

Sharon is facing growing pressure from his own party. Several leading ministers and MKs favor a referendum, believing that it is necessary to avoid a rift in the nation, and over the weekend, key Likud activists also began pressuring Sharon to accede. This pressure is expected to increase as the Knesset vote nears.

Ups and Downs of a Referendum


Popular pollster Mina Tzemach of the Dachaf Institute said Sunday that her latest survey shows that 65% of the population supports the disengagement plan. "This number includes many Arabs, and we cannot be certain that they would participate in the actual vote," she said.

She added that though much is being made of how exactly to word the question in a referendum, "it's not that much of an issue. In a survey, the question is placed to the respondent suddenly, and he responds without much thought. In the case of a referendum, however, the question will be widely publicized, and both sides will have plenty of time to explain their positions."

Tzemach further said that the concept of a referendum, though it appears to be "democracy at its best," actually has some democratic pitfalls: "It could be used in the future on different issues to harm minority interests. For instance, if the issue of drafting yeshiva students would come up, the exemptions would certainly be canceled, without a chance for negotiations, compromise, and the like."

It must be emphasized that though the country is bracing for the fateful Knesset vote Oct. 25 on the unilateral disengagement plan, that vote will have little practical significance. After a bill passes its first reading, it is returned to the relevant Knesset committee for its final formulation, and is then returned to the full plenum for its final readings.

Jerusalem Cemetery Workers May Have Dumped Waste in Graves

By Ha'aretz

Some 200 graves in the Givat Shaul cemetery in Jerusalem are suspected to have been violated in the past few weeks by employees of the site's sanitation company, who filled them with piles of garbage.

The Jerusalem police suspect that contractor Ezra Aslan, who is in charge of the cemetery's sanitation, had hoped to save on waste transport expenses, and instructed to have the waste buried inside graves instead. A sanitation worker who worked for Aslan led police detectives to 30 graves where he had buried garbage. Because of Aslan's expertise the graves were sealed over, so that the act would remain undetected.

The police, who decided not to open up the graves they were shown, noted that a few gravestones had not been re-set, and piles of rubbish were peeking out from the ground below. Aslan denied having instructed his workers to hide the garbage on the gate at a hearing at the Jerusalem's Magistrate's Court on Sunday to extend his remand.

Police launched the investigation when two pistols were discovered in one of the graves. Aslan said he had intended to hand in the guns he found, via his business partner, who works as a security officer in the Shin-Bet, upon his partner's return to Israel from an overseas trip. The police are charging Aslan with illegal possession of firearms, and violation of a cemetery. Magistrate Court Judge Eilata Ziskind extended the suspect's remand by five days.

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