REPORTER: Matthew Carney
Israel`s recent attacks on the West Bank flew in the face of international opinion.
And while the world repeatedly called for Israel to withdraw Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was manoeuvring behind the scenes to make sure the campaign continued. Sharon effectively sidelined his major coalition partner, the Labour Party. They objected to the reoccupation of the West Bank. To make sure the military campaign would be finished to his satisfaction, Sharon brought in this man, Effie Eitam. Eitam is a hardline reservist general and the rising star of the far right in Israel. He wants to see the Palestinian Authority, the PA, destroyed and that`s almost complete.
EFFIE EITAM: The PA is not an innocent civilian authority, we must say that also very clear. It`s the greatest terror consortium in the world.
For the moment Effie Eitam is content with the military`s progress. Eitam was never a supporter of the Oslo peace process. And he now wants to move on to the next phase of his plan – expelling the Palestinian leadership.
EFFIE EITAM: We will have to take this leadership out of the area. Until they are here, until Arafat is here, no chance for any new leadership to come up. So this is the first thing that we`ve got to do, to get rid of him.
REPORTER: So, where do you take him, you just take him out of the country, or…?
EFFIE EITAM: Yes, that is what we have got to do, to take him out of the country, and to make sure that the international community will understand that he`s not a partner any more.
Effie Eitam`s appointment as a minister met with outrage by Labour members and opposition parties. His sudden rise to power meant Labour had just lost their influence and Sharon had moved his Government further to the right. Effie Eitam`s national religious party holding only five seats was now in Sharon`s unity Government and Eitam himself was given a place in Sharon`s inner circle – the security Cabinet. Labour leader and defence minister Ben Eliezer and Labour`s stalwart and Foreign Affairs Minister Shimon Peres effectively lost their power in the Cabinet.
OPHIR PINES-PAZ, LABOUR PARTY: We thought that it was a great mistake of Mr Sharon. Number one, Mr Eitam just entered politics, he had never been a member of the Knesset, he was never elected, he don`t have that kind of experience, he just came out of the army.
As an army man, Israelis have lionised Effie Eitam for his role in freeing these Israeli hostages from Entebbe in Uganda in 1976 and his service in Lebanon in 1982. But his opponents say he went too far in the first Intifada of 1987. Eitam was charged with giving illegal orders to his soldiers to break the bones of Palestinian protesters. Four soldiers were convicted of assault, but Eitam was cleared of any offence.
MOSSI RAZ, MERETZ PARTY: He is not clean. When you talk about somebody who they act in a violent way against civilians, I don`t think that he should be part in our Cabinet.
EFFIE EITAM: No base for these allegations because I mean you can see my record, I seen the first Intifada, I was promoted four times, I became a general in the ADF, they brought it to court, three or four times in court, including the Supreme Court of Justice – just roll them out of the hole, telling them you are coming without clean hands it is all political manipulation.
When the tanks rolled into the West Bank, Eitam was happy. His vision was becoming a reality. Eitam does not believe in a Palestinian state and plans to reoccupy all of the West Bank and Gaza. When all Palestinian militants have been rooted out he`s prepared to offer the Palestinians some autonomy but not democratic rights. But this is only the first stage of Eitam`s grand plan for the Palestinians.
EFFIE EITAM: We saw what happened, 3,000 rifles became an illegal army of terror and we cannot allow them to vote to our Parliament, because that will undermine the Jewish majority in Israel and the Jewish majority is a precondition for what we believe should be a Jewish state.
What has shocked moderate Israeli politicians is Eitam`s support for transfer. The euphemism for removing Palestinians from their homelands in the West Bank and Gaza and relocating them to Jordan or Egypt. He outlined his views to a leading Israeli university: “The Israeli defence force can tomorrow conquer Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip and expel the population there overnight. It`s not a problem to do this. We have a problem of having the will to do this. As a nation, we are inhibited.” Now he is a minister, Eitam says he rejects the idea of transfer as morally repugnant. History tells him that`s precisely what the Nazis did to the Jews, but he still believes the Palestinians have to go.
EFFIE EITAM: Solving the problem is to offer the Palestinians a state which will be combined out of Gaza and Sinai Desert. Sinai is the only significant reservoir of land we have in this region. Egypt doesn`t need it – not for settlement, not for defence, only a few buildings from in there and it is a very huge area, four times bigger than Israel with all the occupied territories. So this must be a kind of cooperation between Israel, Egyptians and the international community and I don`t see any reason why in Hell the Egyptians were enjoying such a massive Western support in money and military aid. Why don`t they offer, or why shouldn`t they offer Sinai as a piece of land which is so empty and really can allow to solve the problem peacefully.
OPHIR PINES-PAZ: His ideology, his ideas – we resent them, we are against them, we oppose them. We don`t like them and we cannot, from my point of view, participate in any Government that he is part of.
In protest at Eitam`s sudden rise to power and his extremist views, Labour says it will leave the Sharon Government.
REPORTER: So when will you leave the Government?
OPHIR PINES-PAZ: I hope as soon as possible. I hope as soon as possible.
REPORTER: When does that mean do you think?
OPHIR PINES-PAZ: I have no idea. I have no idea. I hope that, I mean, we have reasons to leave, daily reasons to leave. The question is when our leaders mainly Shimon Peres and Ben Eliezer will get to the point that they must leave.
EFFIE EITAM: No, they will not come out of unity Government because me and my party came into the Government. That`s rubbish. You know, it`s an area which psychiatrists must really explore. You know, I`m not that good in exploration of hatred, especially not hatred amongst brothers, amongst Jews.
Effie Eitam backs Israel`s Messianic Zionists. They are a minority driven by a biblical vision. They believe the Messiah will only return when every inch of the West Bank, a land they call Judea and Samaria, has been settled by the Jews. Central to their belief is the Jews` first temple needs to be rebuilt on the Temple Mount. This means destroying the al-Aqsa Mosque – Islam`s third holiest site.
DANIEL BEN SIMON, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And he is bringing God with him into politics. And I would say that this is not what the Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs need today – the strong involvement of God. This is a political conflict on politics and mainly on an issue of land and I think that the introduction of religion and God into this conflict is counterproductive and Effie Eitam represents this divine side of bringing religion into politics, I think it is very, very dangerous.
In the face of an unprecedented number of Palestinian suicide bombers, many Israelis are turning to Eitam, a strong man for challenging times. The majority see his ideas as extreme, but he is gaining popularity. 46% of people recently polled supported the idea of transfer.
DANIEL BEN SIMON: Israelis are so disappointed by conventional politics that they are looking for different solutions and then comes somebody who represents himself as a strong believer in God and somebody who will, who will really enhance the coming of the Messiah, many Israelis today are ready to consider very strange ideas even such ideas like the Messiah. So I would say he comes in a very low point in Israeli politics and in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. And within this framework of death and despair, such people can have a lot of support.
The appointment of Effie Eitam means extremism is winning in Israel as it is on the Palestinian sides. If Labour walks out of the unity government it will take any hope of a negotiated political settlement with it. And Eitam`s opponents fear Israel will only see more death and destruction.
OPHIR PINES-PAZ: Because it won`t do anything right now, politically, I`m talking about politically, the terror will rise again in a week time, or two weeks time or three weeks time. It`s a matter of time. So we have to be in that sense wise and try to prevent it by political means.
MOSSI RAZ: I would say that I am optimistic about the long run but pessimistic about the short term. But don`t think anybody knows what is going to happen.