Peres balks at Olmert's plans for further West Bank pullout
Shalom: Further West Bank withdrawal contrary to Sharon's position; left wing says effort falls short of real peace plan.
Kadima candidate Shimon Peres added his voice to those of politicians from both sides of the spectrum who Sunday balked at Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's purported intention to carry out an additional unilateral withdrawal in the West Bank.
Olmert came under fire for his plans to enlist international support for a unilateral Israeli pullout from parts of the West Bank, should he win the March elections for the Knesset. Rivals from Olmert's former party, the Likud, called the bid a "prize to Hamas."
Olmert believes that the first objective of the next government will be to create a supportive international environment for implementing Israel's national goals: setting its borders and ensuring a Jewish majority
"I'm not part of the group rushing to advocate unilateral withdrawals. The picture on the Palestinian side is still unclear," Peres told military academy graduates.
Peres went on to say that Hamas, which won the recent Palestinian parliamentary elections, is moving closer to Iran, although the Palestinian nation does not want to be an Iranian satellite. He termed Iran fanatical and extreme, with a partly crazy leader.
"If the Palestinians want peace, we'll enter negotiations based on the road map, and if they turn to terror, we'll use force against them," he said.
Earlier Sunday, MK Silvan Shalom said that plans for an additional withdrawal "contradict the position of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon."
"Walls should be constructed around Hamas, because all land that will be given to the movement will strengthen it," Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu said in response to the plan for the withdrawal.
"Kadima's plan for a withdrawal from Judea and Samaria is a prize for Hamas. It's not surprising that [exiled Hamas leader] Khaled Meshal, in Moscow, rushed to support it. The land evacuated by Israel will immediately become bases for new Hamas attacks against Israel," Likud campaign chairman MK Gideon Sa'ar said.
Also according to Likud, "Even before the Hamas government is sworn in, Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud al-Zahar received a gift from Olmert and Kadima. Kadima and Olmert are again zig-zagging and instead [building] of a diplomatic wall around Hamas, they are planning on evacuating dozens of settlements and giving land to Hamas.
"Olmert's behavior indicates diplomatic blindness and lack of understanding the significance of Hamas' rise to power. Olmert's plan, which outflanks Labor and Meretz on the left, will further strengthen Hamas."
"This is irresponsible, strengthens Hamas, weakens Israel and encourages terror. The evacuation of settlements adjacent to Jerusalem will bring attempts at firing mortar shells on populated areas in Jerusalem, on government offices and the Knesset. That is what happened to towns adjacent to Gaza and that is what will happen to Jerusalem," said Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party.
The left attacked the effort as falling short of a true peace plan.
"It's good that Kadima recognizes the need to evacuate settlements, but this virtual evacuation still isn't a peace deal. A peace agreement is the only option, and no party aside from Meretz has the courage to propose such a deal," MK Ran Cohen (Meretz) said.
MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) said, "The plan has the same measure of logic as that mythological proposal by Yaakov Meridor, who suggested a lamp that would illuminate all of Ramat Gan. The IDF's continued control of the area signifies the continued conflict and violence. The plan will not improve Israel's international standing, the security of the country's residents, or the state of the Palestinians. These are campaign promises and not a real diplomatic plan."
Ex-Shin Bet chief confirms Kadima plans for further pulloutKnesset candidate and former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter on Sunday confirmed reports that Kadima plans to carry out a further disengagement in the West Bank if it wins the March 28 elections.
"It will be only a civilian disengagement, not a military disengagement," Avi Dichter told Israel Radio. Under such a disengagement, isolated settlements would be removed and their residents moved to settlement blocs, while the IDF maintained security control over the areas to be evacuated.
Dichter had voiced criticism of the August 2005 disengagement, in which Israel ceded military control of settlement areas. Armed Palestinian groups have since used evacuated settlements as launching points for Qassam attacks against Israel.
The process of carrying out a second pullout will begin immediately after a new government is formed following Israel's March 28 elections, Dichter said. The entire process would take about four years, he said.
Earlier in the day, Army Radio quoted Dichter as saying that among the settlements to be evacuated would be Elon Moreh, Yitzhar, Itamar, Shilo, Psagot, Tekoa, Tapuah, P'nei Hever, Nokdim, Ma'on and Otniel.
The reported list includes a number of relatively isolated settlements which are home to radical rightists within the larger settlement movement.
Olmert to appeal to int'l communityOlmert will try to persuade the American administration and the key players in the international community that unless Hamas alters its positions, they must support a unilateral Israeli move to determine the border in the West Bank. In his view, Israel has managed to muster broad international support for the conditions it imposed on the Hamas government, and this must be kept up until after the elections. Only then will it begin to promote the unilateral initiative.
Since the Hamas victory in the Palestinian legislative elections, Olmert has been referring less and less to the road map peace plan. Some of his advisers told him to stick with that plan, which enjoys American support and is accepted in the international community as the basis for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. But Olmert thinks he would make a fool of himself were he to continue talking about the road map, as though the political circumstances had not changed following the Palestinian polls.
The United States is beginning to rethink its Middle East policy, in the wake of the blow the administration sustained in the Palestinian elections: the Americans pressured Israel and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to hold the elections as scheduled, and thus brought about Hamas' rise to power. U.S. support for a unilateral Israeli move could be construed as a necessary correction of the mistake made with the elections.