Vote Withdrawal

Nearly 40 years after the Six-Day War, most Israelis want to end the occupation. Kadima are likely to carry this out, but Meretz will make sure.

When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon started to talk about the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, he was accused of betraying his voters. Sharon rummaged through his papers and found that even before the elections, he had said something about the need for "painful concessions." In the elections this time, everything is supposed to be clear: The two largest parties have undertaken to withdraw from most of the territories of the West Bank and to dismantle settlements inhabited by a total of about 70,000 people, within six months or a year, with or without negotiations, with or without an agreement, with or without a fence, permanent or temporary - but according to a more or less clear plan that is now before the voter, including Kiryat Arba and Hebron, all during the term of the next government. This is the commitment; there is no room for misunderstandings.

Nearly 40 years after the Six-Day War, most Israelis have realized that nothing good has come of the occupation, only bad. Almost certainly, most of them came to this conclusion under the influence of the demographic threat and under the pressure of terror. How sad that they are now getting in the hard and bad way what others had suggested achieving through an agreement, many years ago. The Arab threat, therefore, is achieving more than what four decades of Israeli leftism have achieved.

However, there is hardly anyone who ever suggested withdrawing from most of the territories of the West Bank and dismantling settlements without a peace agreement; therefore it is difficult to think of a more dramatic commitment than the one that the two largest parties are now offering for the voter's decision. They are following the path of Ariel Sharon, who instilled in Israelis a supremely important realization: There is withdrawal without trauma.

The major question that is facing the voter today is who will best carry out the promise to withdraw from most of the territories of the West Bank and dismantle settlements. This is a choice among a number of channels of investment: The higher the expected return, the higher the risk as well. In the nature of things, a strong Kadima ostensibly increases the chances that the occupation in most of the territories of the West Bank will end soon; after all, this is what it has promised. However, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's reputation is not one that has been acquired particularly for his integrity, and prior to the elections he is conditioning the withdrawal on "internal negotiations." It will be easier to vote for him after the withdrawal.

There is also no certainty that all of the people he is bringing into the Knesset will remain with him: Someone who has defected once is liable to defect again. Some of the people who are slated to play a crucial role in the implementation of the "convergence" owe their careers to the occupation - Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and former Sin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter, for example.

Nor has Olmert entirely ruled out the possibility of a partnership with Avigdor Lieberman's party, the relative strength of which is expected, much to our disgrace, to be larger than that of a number of racist parties in Europe. For moral reasons, Lieberman has to be ruled out as a partner.

On the assumption that Olmert really is preparing to carry out his withdrawal plan, there is a need to weaken the elements that are liable to thwart the implementation of the plan and to strengthen, through a tactical vote, possible partners to its implementation. Two main alternatives suggest themselves for this purpose. Labor candidate MK Amir Peretz most regrettably was tempted into talking more about poverty than about the need to eliminate the settlements, but he is committed to a withdrawal, with or without an agreement. He, too, is bringing with him several people who owe their political existence to the occupation, such as MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and MK Matan Vilnai. Peretz has also entangled himself in his commitment to a number of social issues, a move that is likely to impede full, unreserved support for Olmert's government; his party has certain personal expectations.

Nevertheless, the Labor Party is likely to bind Olmert.

There is a more certain way of binding Olmert to a withdrawal. Meretz is a small party whose chances of influencing what happens are not very sizable; anyone who invests his vote in this party does not get high returns, but he hardly takes any risk: Meretz will unreservedly support a withdrawal and the dismantling of settlements; this could be net support for Olmert's plan.