No Point in Waiting

Those who propose waiting to implement Olmert's convergence plan until the wounds from the previous disengagement heal, until the Hamas government falls or until the Qassam rockets cease, ignore the natural dynamics of the reality on the ground.

The importance of the disengagement plan was that it broke the taboo against evacuating settlements in the territories. The difficulties that arose were mostly psychological: internalization of the principle of "land for peace," fear of a violent domestic split and political breakdown. The execution was simple compared to the expectations. The settlers were evacuated quickly, without bloodshed, the army redeployed around the fence and the state coffers absorbed the expense without difficulty.

In retrospect, Ariel Sharon's disengagement from Gaza looks like a walk in the park compared to the convergence that Ehud Olmert plans for the West Bank. From every possible perspective, Olmert's plan looks far more complicated than its predecessor. First of all, it is impossible to remove 70,000 people from their homes in a lightning move of six days, like in Gush Katif. And before anyone moves, support has to be won from the Americans for the new line, which will deviate from the Green Line. And the separation fence has to be completed. And the tens of billions to be paid to the settlers have to be found. And new housing must be built for them. And new security arrangements made. And the danger of domestic clashes must be eliminated or mitigated.

All this must be done with a shaky coalition, headed by an inexperienced leader. But that's why despair should be ruled out, and the vitally important move of redrawing the borders should not be postponed until the circumstances change. Those who propose waiting until the wounds from the previous disengagement heal, until the Hamas government falls or until the Qassam rockets cease, ignore the natural dynamics of the reality on the ground. In an imaginary world, or under laboratory conditions, the status quo could be preserved, and the move put off until things work out. In the real world it is impossible to conduct controlled experiments, and inactivity can be very costly.

Let's assume the decision is to wait, and not to start the convergence. Will the settlers sit quietly and wait for the sentence against them? What will happen meanwhile in Itamar, Yitzhar, Eli and Har Bracha? Will they continue to build and develop those settlements? Should they continue getting the special benefits that go to designated National Priority A communities, as they do now? Should the access roads to them be protected? Those who propose leaving thousands of civilians in occupied, hostile territory just to anger Hamas or to postpone the pain of territorial amputation, must answer these questions. That's the real meaning of postponement.

It's interesting that the Palestinians and their Israeli leftist supporters like Peace Now have long since ceased being interested in Itamar and Yitzhar. They understand that the fate of those settlements has already been determined. Their struggle now is focused on the areas that Olmert wants to annex, East Jerusalem and the fence. If the government has an interest in protecting the ridges that control the settlement blocs and the holy sites in Jerusalem, as Olmert declares, than it must fight for them and not waste energy by extending the lives of isolated settlements whose existence is hopeless.

If Israel has decided to end the enormous settlement enterprise that it built on the mountain ridges, it is pointless to drag out the dying. Remember what happened in the last decade. The Oslo years were bonanza years for the settlements of Judea and Samaria. The fears of all the previous governments, from Yitzhak Rabin's to Sharon's, was of an inevitable clash with the hilltop people, and that made them expand settlements as they tried to buy quiet.

The time has come to put an end to this party. If Itamar and Yitzhar are to be evacuated, then the deployment for that purpose should begin now. In any case, Olmert is planning a schedule of up to two years until the convergence. It would be a shame to drag it out and risk losing the momentum.