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Gush Emunim on the rise in Israeli politics

While the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty continues to affect Israel's political parties, the outcome of the autonomy negotiations will greatly determine the future of any Israeli government. In any case, political parties from both the center and the right now have another factor to contend with -- the Gush Emunim (the block of the faithful), which has emerged as a major political force. Since 1967, the Gush has had a dramatic impact on Israel's West Bank policies, and from all indications the Gush will continue to exert political influence disproportionate to its actual numbers. As Israel's general election approaches (November 1981), a new political grouping may be formed, one gravitating toward the establishment of a major right-wing coalition in which the Gush could play a central role.

The Gush Emunim is a peripheral group drawn from the Israeli political center , but it attracts support from all segments of the population. The Gush's remarkable success with secular Israelis can be attributed to its resiliency and ability to offer an answer to those yearning for unconstrained Israeli incorporation of what it calls in Hebrew "Eretz Yisrael Hashlemah" (the whole of the Land of Israel).

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The movement claims to exemplify a renewed pioneering spirit and self-dedication based on the Judaic prophecy of Messianic redemption. Thus the Gush believes that the failure to maintain territorial integrity -- that is, policies that grant a separate future for the territories -- is nothing less than a negation of divine will and must inadvertently lead to the end of the process of redemption.

Zionism, the Gush asserts, has failed because the secularists have attempted to separate the political-national and the religious spheres. Therefore, in order to revitalize Zionism, Zionism itself must go through a transformation.

This transformation, as Rabbi Y. Kook (the spiritual leader of the movement) maintains, calls for the Zionist movement to divorce itself from the arena of party politics and to assume a renewed goal and a new spirit. A policy of unrestricted Jewish settlemetn in the occupied territories became a way of vindicating the Gush's philosophy, since it was thus able to demonstrate in words and in deeds the "real meaning" of Zionism.

Although both the Labor Party and, to a great extent, Prime Minister Begin's Likud coalition itself had serious resevations about the Gush's approach, they were both nevertheless compelled to accede to the Gush's demands, thereby causing the Gush to acquire a degree of legitimacy transcending party politics. While the National Religious Party (NRP) acts as the official political representative of the Gush, the Gush was able to influence the government through its massive public appeal.

From the concept of "Hitnahalut" (to settle and to become a part of the land) , particularly in Judea and Samaria, evolved a new political philosophy that incorporates religious, economic, and political principles. The Gush believes that only by returning to basics, such as farming and settling the land, and by ensuring Jewish labor as a basic tenet of Jewish redemption will Israel's economic and political problems diminish. It may be impossible to assess accurately the Gush's political influence, but it appears to have sufficient wide-range appeal to make any Israeli government carefully consider possible future territorial concessions to the Palestinians.

Although it is difficult to predict the outcome of a new election, be it held prematurely or as scheduled in November 1981, it is likely that the Labor alignment, with the support of the Democratic Movement and other groups peripheral to the center, will fail to achieve peace -- and that this will tend to strengthen the political right. It is not improbable that the Herut faction (the right-wing party in Begin's coalition), the National Religious Party, Agudat Yisrael, and the Gush together could form a formidable right-wing block that could deny any other party or party coalition the majority needed to form a government.

In the final analysis, it may very well be that only the extreme right is capable of delivering peace, once the Palestinians accept the Jewish right to settle in any part of the West Bank and the Gaza district, leaving the sovereignty question to be determined at a later date as stipulated by the Ca mp David accords and by Begin's autonomy plan.

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