Take Olmert Seriously

PM Olmert needs to encourage settlers to leave the West Bank immediately in order to make the future pullout easier on the IDF.

Last week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced the appointment of Zvia Shimon as head of the Disengagement Administration. Yonatan Bassi, who filled this thankless role during the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, is going home. The appointment of Shimon, currently senior Deputy Director at the Prime Minister's Office, appears to indicate Olmert's seriousness to properly prepare for the implementation of the convergence plan: a month in office, he assigns a senior civil servant the task of coordinating preparations for work to be carried out in two years.

At the same time, he declared ?(in a Yedioth Aharonoth interview?) his intention to carry out the evacuation from the West Bank in one fell swoop. There is logic in his stance but there is also doubt as to his ability to carry it out. In order to evacuate 70,000 people, there is a need for some 15,000 housing units; there is no such stockpile available. In order to rehabilitate the 2,700 families torn from Gush Katif and northern Samaria, the state is spending nearly NIS 5 billion. The estimated cost of compensation for the evacuees from the West Bank, of the investment in construction and infrastructure is, at least, NIS 50 billion ?(not including the redeployment of the IDF?).

Moreover, the state based its compensation plans for the evacuees from Gush Katif on the lessons of the withdrawal from Yamit in the Sinai in 1982: a solution specific to each family's needs. In retrospect it turns out that that was a serious mistake: Most of the settlements requested to be evacuated as communities and this was the main reason for the delays in providing the evacuees with solutions. In addition, the state did not correctly assess the strength of the ideologically motivated opposition to the withdrawal and, consequently, the refusal of the Gaza Strip settlers to cooperate with the evacuation and compensation officials prior to the actual pullout.

These facts are raised in order to emphasize the size of the task before Zvia Shimon. She will have to deal with complex problems whose scope is tenfold greater than those handled by Yonatan Bassi. In order to sufficiently prepare for the next evacuation, time is necessary. In retrospect, they recognized at the Disengagement Administration that they needed at least a year to prepare for the implementation of the disengagement initiative. The time necessary to prepare for carrying out the convergence plan is even greater.

There is another side to this story. The possibility of a withdrawal from the territories has already been sealed onto our consciousness. From this point of view, Shimon's task versus the settlers in Judea and Samarea may be easier.

The Prime Minister's inclination is also clear. Unlike Ariel Sharon, whose initiative was surprising, as was the duration of the disbelief in his willingness to actually carry it out, Olmert is speaking with clarity that should not be mistaken. In an interview with Yedioth Aharonoth, he announced that in his previous posts he had had his fill of the benefits of power, and that now he sees his tenure as Prime Minister as a mission assigned to him in order to carry out the separation from the territories. This commitment is not mere lip service: It is real, and appears to be based also in Olmert's relations with his family, who constitute a very important factor in his considerations.

Precisely because of the credibility emanating from Olmert's stance on the convergence plan, it is hard to understand why he does not make life easier for himself before he has to carry it out. After all, he understands that his real test ? in fact, his political future and place in Israeli history ? depends on his ability to fulfill his plan, and he obviously understands the severity of the difficulties facing him. Why then, does he not accept the suggestions to initiate, even now, steps which encourage the settlers in the West Bank to willingly return to the Green Line in exchange for fair compensation? Less opposition on the part of the settlers slated for evacuation would make it easier for the country to deal with them; and the more the withdrawal becomes real, the chances of reaching an understanding with them also increase.