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Jewish Settlers Meet on Resistance to Gaza Withdrawals


A prominent leader of the settler movement is urging followers to engage in non-violent civil disobedience, in an effort to halt the removal of Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. VOA's Larry James reports from Jerusalem on the shift toward rejection of the disengagement plan of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The chairman of the Yesha Council of Jewish settlements has called on the public to violate the transfer law, en masse, and to be ready to pay the price of mass imprisonment.

Pinchas Wallerstein says he is not afraid of jail and he expressed the hope others would be willing to join him.

Mr. Wallerstein denounced Prime Minister Sharon's plans to evacuate all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four small outposts in the West Bank as an injustice. The settler leader also says plans for a national unity government bringing together Mr. Sharon's Likud Party and its traditional opponent, Labor, are illegitimate.

Mr. Sharon is close to signing a coalition agreement with Labor that would stabilize his government and guarantee strong political support for the Gaza withdrawal.

Settler leaders had been confident they could stop the Gaza plan with political lobbying and perhaps even bring down the Sharon government, if it came to that.

But, despite the departure of pro-settler members of the government, last summer, and significant support in the Israeli parliament, Mr. Sharon managed to outmaneuver his opponents and appears to be emerging in a strong position.

A coalition with Labor and several small religious parties would give him a 67-seat majority in the 120 seat in parliament. The left wing Yahad Party, which considers the settlement withdrawal crucially important, says it will throw its support behind Mr. Sharon, despite the fact it is ideologically opposed to nearly ever other Sharon policy.

The withdrawal plan is accompanied by special legislation making it a crime, punishable by three years in prison, for anyone to physically resist the dismantling of the settlements. The disengagement bill must pass two more parliament votes before it becomes law.

Ariel Sharon, once the settlers' strongest ally, calls Mr. Wallerstein's words harsh. He says he understands the pain of the settlers, but cautions that they must not break the law.