The decision by the ministerial committee headed by Natan Sharansky, which received government approval this week, to move the construction site of the mosque in Nazareth away from the Church of the Annunciation plaza was received with surprising silence on the part of the Muslim public. Predictions of a furious reaction had led to more than a thousand police officers being concentrated in the Arab sector at the beginning of the week. As of now, in Jerusalem, they're knocking wood and praying that the present quiet is not the calm before the storm.
Members of the ministerial committee learned some interesting lessons as they became acquainted with the Muslim-Christian dispute and the way that earlier governments handled it. They came to believe that the source of the trouble lay in the weakness of the Netanyahu and Barak governments and in the vacillations in their positions. They learned that the more the Islamic Movement smelled weakness, the more bold and extreme its demands became. They found that the dispute made the moderate leaders in the Christian and Muslim communities fearful and caused them to retreat in the face of the Islamic Movement leaders' growing assertiveness.
So great was the fear that, during the committee hearings, a number of well-known figures from the Arab sector declined to appear before the full panel and preferred to present their positions to the chairman, Sharansky, alone, in one-on-one conversations that were not recorded in the protocols. The lesson Sharansky learned from this experience: An aggressive governmental approach liberates the discussion from the intimidation imposed by extreme elements, alters the outline of the necessary compromise and makes intelligent decisions possible. Sharansky recommends that this lesson be kept in mind when it comes to the government's handling of the confrontation with the Palestinians in the territories.
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