Avigdor Lieberman was the first to find an opening in the smoke screen Kadima has been putting up, known as "Ehud Olmert's victory speech." It will go down in modern history as the first speech that acquired the distinguished status of "basic guidelines." Lieberman is one of the only politicians who bother to do their homework and, when necessary, are not embarrassed to get a private tutor. The leader of Yisrael Beiteinu searched for and found differences between Olmert's speech and another, equally important, document - the famous letter of commitments that U.S. President George Bush presented to Ariel Sharon.
Olmert promised that if negotiations with the Palestinians to work out the permanent borders did not succeed, Israel would "take its fate in its own hands" and would act even in the absence of consent with its neighbors. A rereading of the text reveals that Olmert really does not mean Israel will utterly overlook the rest of the world. It will take its fate into its own hands, he said, on the basis of "a deep understanding" with our friends around the world - first and foremost among them being Bush. But Bush has already reached a deep understanding with Israel about borders. It is so deep that it has already spurred into action the rest of our friends around the world (insofar as Olmert was referring to the United States' Quartet partners - the EU, Russia and the UN.)
After receiving pressure from Sharon, who was himself subject to pressure from the rebels, Bush wrote that "in light of the new reality on the ground, including existing Israeli population centers, it was unrealistic to expect that the results of the permanent arrangement negotiations be a full return to the 1949 Armistice Lines." And that's not all. Bush, who is also committed to his vision of a Palestinian state, emphasized that this reality would be taken into account in "any final status arrangement that was agreed to on the basis of mutually acceptable changes." In other words, the U.S. recognizes the demographic reality that has been established in the territories and even expects the Palestinians to recognize it. But that will happen only if and when the issue is placed on the table. The distance from the present to the recognition of permanent borders achieved through a do-it-yourself approach is as far as the distance between Olmert's map of the West Bank and Khaled Mashal's.
Lieberman immediately realized that he had found Olmert's weak point. He announced that he no longer had any objection to the unilateral withdrawal plan, the same plan, which until the speech - sorry - basic guidelines, was known as "convergence." That is, provided the plan receives the blessing of "our friends around the world, and first among them, President Bush." Kadima's negotiating team realized that Lieberman had placed Olmert on a tree that was too high. They searched for a way for him to get down and invented a new formula: The international community will not be required to recognize the permanent borders that Israel will dictate, rather they will be asked only to recognize the process of unilateral disengagement.
Even if Lieberman, who until now has only headed the police portfolio, is tempted to buy these damaged goods if only to get the police portfolio, any reference in the basic guidelines to free concessions for the Arabs will force Olmert to drop Shas. The ultra-Orthodox party's negotiating team knows that if they present such a formula to Rabbi Ovadia, he will take them out and lock the door behind them. Over the holiday, he will swallow Olmert's dietetic speech.
And we still haven't said anything about Lieberman's marriage option and the political demands of the Labor party. Shas suggests overcoming the problem of civil marriages with the aid of Jewish legal ruling, halakha, of Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar. Shas officials say the choice of Amar is unrelated to his position as the Chief Sephardi Rabbi, but rather to his relatively liberal approach to the issue of unacceptable marriage candidates. The Labor party and the political issue are a different story altogether.
Peretz has a speech too
Amir Peretz ordered the Labor party negotiation team to notify Kadima negotiators that if they insisted on Olmert's victory speech becoming the government's basic guidelines, he wanted his speech attached to it. Although it was not a victory speech, the Herzliya Conference speech by the leader of the second-largest party was by no means unimportant. Incidentally, the gap between the Labor party and a 20th seat in the Knesset shrank from 380 votes to 70 votes. In the party, primarily its Druze department, they hope to find those votes among the ballots that still need to be inspected. Peretz promises to disperse the smoke screen surrounding Kadima after all the speakers come down from the dais. He says that not only does he have detailed basic guidelines, but he also has red lines.
In consultations ahead of negotiations with Kadima, it was decided that, on one hand, the Labor party would not demand that the government's basic guidelines skip over territorial mines such as area E-1 or the Ariel bloc, in order to leave something for the negotiations with the Palestinians. On the other hand, when it comes to all things unrelated and not dependent on Palestinian agreement, Peretz intends not only to get into the small details, but also to demand a timeta ble. He is demanding that all coalition members be obligated to vote in favor of an evacuation-compensation law for settlers from the West Bank who want to move back. Two bills, one from Peretz and Yuli Tamir, and the other from Colette Avital and Avner Vilan, were submitted to the outgoing Knesset. Peretz is asking to pass the law without delay and immediately begin implementing it.
Another demand: The basic guidelines should include a section on removing outposts within a year from the date the government is formed. Peretz is not referring to the 24 outposts built since Sharon's rise to power, as promised in the Road Map. He will demand that the basic guidelines address the dismantling of all 104 illegal outposts all over the West Bank. In order to prevent misunderstandings among the coalition partners and disagreements among the members of the government, a law can be passed authorizing the prime minister to decide on dismantling settlements, just as the defense minister was authorized to allow their establishment. After thousands of hours in the company of Ramon, Peretz knows that after Haim gets excited about the unilateral approach, he will do everything to prove that this is the only approach available. Therefore, the Labor party chairman will demand adequate representation for his party's ministers in the negotiations with the Palestinian representatives.
If it were up to him, Peretz would make do with a modest, but stable coalition comprised of Kadima, Labor, the Pensioners Party, Meretz and United Torah Judaism. With outside support from the Arab parties, that is enough to proceed during the next term across the 1967 lines. Unfortunately for him, Olmert is insisting on also including Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu, as a counterweight to the Labor party. He says the Labor party has not uttered the last word on the Lieberman issue. He fears that if he sets conditions for the inclusion of the "transfer" party, at the height of negotiations, he will be accused of using gimmicks. For that reason, he has an interest in signing a coalition agreement before Lieberman does. As a member of the coalition, it is easier to set conditions to accept new members into the club. For example, a section in the basic guidelines stipulates that any change in Israel's permanent borders guarantees that all its citizens, regardless of religion, race and nationality, remain within the boundaries of the state and will not be transferred to foreign sovereignty. A Lieberman who would say "da" to such a stipulation would be a weakened Lieberman.
Find the treasure
Of the NIS 467 million the Ministry of Health says is needed for patients, the government found only NIS 310 million with which to increase the health services basket. The difference, NIS 157 million, is very close to that between the cost of the separation fence along the route planned by the Ministry of Defense in the Ma'ale Adumim area, under the guidance of Danny Tirza, and the alternate route prepared by Col. (res.) Shaul Arieli for the Council for Peace and Security.
In an affidavit they submitted to the High Court of Justice, Ariel and his colleagues Maj. Gen. (res.) Avraham Aden, Maj. Gen. (res.) Nati Sharoni, Brig. Gen. (res.) Yehuda Golan and Commander (ret.) Shaul Givoli, write that the Ministry of Defense is "inappropriately using security-related explanations for objectives that are unrelated to security." According to them, the distance from the fence to the populated area requiring protection, the length and the size of the area included are not reasonable from a security perspective. The cost of adding the unnecessary section of fence, which is 14 kilometers long, is NIS 140 million.
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