Pullout Pipe Dream

Olmert's promise for unilateral withdrawal seems to be nothing more than a slogan - he has given no time line, price tag, data or details about it.

Here's the conundrum: the left cannot oppose a withdrawal from the territories in the West Bank, even if it is unilateral, and even if it doesn't include all the longings and dreams about the return of the settlers to the state of Israel, and even if it means absolute disengagement from any Palestinian partner. But how can one vote for a party that promises unilateral withdrawal, when reason dictates that the party won't be able to fulfill the promise of withdrawal within the foreseeable future? Is such a party worth supporting only because it presents a historic worldview, a pleasing vision of the later days never before proposed by any party, whether of the left, let alone the right, since 1967, even though the vision is impossible to fulfill?

The stomachaches caused by Olmert's promises only intensify when he presents his theory as nearly a fait accompli. His declarations that he won't bring into the coalition any party that does not sign onto support for the disengagement is maybe balm for the bones of every proponent of withdrawal, but it also conceals bothersome facts.

On the assumption that the most that can be achieved by such a government is a partial withdrawal, and on the assumption that would involve moving some 70,000 settlers from one place to another, is it really unnecessary to ask when all this is supposed to happen? How much will it cost? Who will pay for it? What's the gain?

The evacuation of Gush Katif, with its 7,000 residents, apparently cost upward of NIS 11 billion, and that's not the final number. Let's suppose that the evacuation of 70,000 won't require 10 times the amount, but only five times the amount, meaning close to NIS 60 billion. Has anyone deposited such a check to Olmert in any bank account? That's about a third of the government's anticipated expenses for 2006.

Demagogically, one can add that it is a sum that is two and a half times the education ministry budget. But let's assume that the skies will open and a flood of gold will fall on Israel. Here's another fact. The evacuation of Gush Katif required the participation of nearly 50,000 soldiers and police. Theoretically, if the army wants to maintain a similar proportion of soldiers against settlers, it will need half a million soldiers. Theoretically, because the Israel Defense Forces doesn't have that many soldiers, not even half that.

The evacuations apparently could take place in stages. But only seemingly. Because the West Bank is not Gaza, it is not a closed, fenced area. It is more like a balloon, so if you squeeze it on one side, the other side bulges. And we haven't even mentioned that far more soldiers live in the West Bank than did service personnel in Gaza, nor did we mention the number of lunatics, lurking in their West Bank fortifications, who are ready to squeeze the trigger.

The question of timing should also be significant if we aren't being asked to vote for some post-apocalyptic vision. Will the evacuations begin immediately after the elections or at the end of the government's four-year term in office? When Ehud Barak proposed the withdrawal from Lebanon as an election platform, the public knew exactly the time he was talking about; when Ariel Sharon first proposed the withdrawal from Gaza, the time frame was also known. Has anyone heard anything about any date from Olmert?

There is no data nor details about the West Bank withdrawal plan, and as far as we were able to find out, the IDF has also not begun planning for it. So Olmert's statements are just campaign slogans, no different from a promise that "things will be good." The question is how much credit can be given to a leader who proposes the most reasonable idea without mentioning a price tag or a deadline?

Maybe instead of stampeding like a herd of gnu after a theoretical idea, it would be best to strengthen the potential future partners in a coalition. That way, at least, Olmert will have to sweat to please the voters, or at least compensate them with activity in other areas, until the withdrawal dream comes true.