The West Bank convergence plan died one year after the implementation of its predecessor, disengagement from the Gaza Strip. Last Friday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced its passing in "conversations with ministers," according to a report by Yossi Verter in Haaretz.
Olmert did not think that his own Kadima party voters and the general public were entitled to an in-depth explanation, from his own lips, of the demise of his government's fundamental platform. He matter-of-factly assumed that Israelis, under Katyusha fire from Lebanon, had already internalized the shift in due course. Cancellation of the convergence plan raises two main questions: What is meanwhile happening in the territories and what is the point of continuing Olmert's government?
Israel's policy regarding the Palestinian Authority is summed up in its boycott of the Hamas government and in dusty promises to speak with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Everything is frozen in the wait for a deal in which kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit would be traded for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, and Qassam missile fire would cease in return for an Israel Defense Forces withdrawal from Gaza. The "political horizon" stops there.
On the background of a failing war in Lebanon, destruction in the Galilee and military disgrace, the territories look like islands of sanity. Several suicide attacks were thwarted in the West Bank, and the IDF killed many Palestinians with no losses among our forces. Reports of continuing Qassam fire in Sderot have been relegated to the back pages of newspapers. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been displaced from the agenda. The world is busy sending an international force to Lebanon, and Israel is occupied by self-examination and concern for its abducted soldiers.
The problem is that a vacuum invites trouble. The Reut Institute warns that a new intifada may erupt, or that the PA may be "voluntarily" dismantled. This week, the head of the Shin Bet security service warned the government that "Gaza will become another Lebanon." But there is no one to listen now.
The vacuum exists in the case of the settlers as well. The cloud of pending evacuation lifted when the convergence plan was shelved, and outposts will remain in place while the IDF is busy in Lebanon. Will development and construction in the territories continue? Will the government continue to invest in settlements despite Olmert's promises? Will outposts dig in deeper?
Olmert has no answers. The response to calls to dismiss him is the threat of Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm. But what, exactly, is the difference? Both now propose preservation of the status quo in the territories, rehabilitation of the North and grappling with Iran.
At this point, what advantage does the head of state have over the head of the opposition? Olmert aides credit him with an advantage in demeanor; his office is better run than Netanyahu's. Even if true, this is questionably sufficient cause to leave Olmert in the government.
Doubts regarding his ability to implement the convergence plan arose before the war. But removing this issue from the agenda negates the reason for having the Kadima party and its government. Olmert merely offers the public and the international community efforts to survive ("rehabilitation of the North") and a political holding action ("Bashar Assad is contemptible"). If the government is too weak to embark on new political initiatives to replace unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, it should end its term quickly.
Reuven Adler, friend and adviser of Ariel Sharon, was accustomed to saying that political success relies on giving the public hope. Olmert distanced himself from Adler but called him to a meeting during the war. If Olmert wishes to survive, he should learn from Adler. Kadima found it difficult to win over the public during its campaign and barely claimed a victory "on points." It is now mired in the aftermath of the war and facing a wave of inquiries at the highest level of government. If it fails to offer persuasive, new hope quickly, it will be remembered as a brief chapter in history - as will its leaders.
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