West Bank’s Not Gaza: Olmert Needs to Slow Down the Pace


I voted for Kadima earlier this year because I supported Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

But my support for the disengagement idea does not mean I favor rushing into a further West Bank pullout. Not now. Not yet.

On the contrary, Israel is "parked" in a good place while events in the Palestinian areas play themselves out, the security barrier is completed, and policymakers assess what our Gaza departure has done for the country's international standing and for domestic cohesion.

In other words, disengagement was a costly experiment whose results have not yet been fully analyzed.

I prefer realistic policies to anachronistic ideologies; meaning that, like other Kadima voters, I accept that Israel can't rule over millions of hostile Arabs in perpetuity, ignore international opprobrium over the so-called occupation, or allow cleavages over the settlement enterprise to rend Israel's body politic asunder.

The only thing that's new since the election less than two months ago is my discomfiture at Ehud Olmert's speed. He told a group of visiting American mayors last week that he's ready to "wait a month, two months, three months, half a year" before moving forward.

But with disengagement behind us, a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority in power and an international community that seems primed to take the heat off the Islamists by funneling moneys to cover the salaries – not just of P.A. doctors, nurses and teachers, but also gunmen – the operative question is: How can Israel move forward without making matters worse? Certainly not by lurching ahead, when the situation demands cautious deliberation.

Disengagement is supposed to be a strategy, not a theology. I would expect leftists to adhere to the Geneva Initiative and rightists to uphold the Greater Israel teachings of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, regardless of real-world events.

But I opted for the pragmatic party precisely because I wanted leaders who would calibrate policy to reality. At the end of the day, future withdrawals should be carried out only if they result in lasting diplomatic gains such as de-facto U.S. and European Union recognition of the new boundaries; if they enhance the personal security of Israelis; and if they set the stage for making our society more cohesive.

Olmert met with President George W. Bush this week to launch his diplomatic push for convergence. The prime minister's working assumption is that Washington sees "Disengagement II" as the only game in town.

But an Olmert-Bush meeting resulting in a vague, nonbinding memorandum that speaks in broad terms immediately open to contrasting interpretations should be a red light to any further unilateral moves by Israel.

Convergence also has sobering security ramifications. The Israel Defense Force needs time to work out how to prevent enemy rockets from landing in Tel Aviv, just 18 kilometers from the West Bank. Strategic depth – as residents of Sderot and Ashkelon can testify – still matters. That Gaza's Kassam and Katyusha problem has yet to be solved must surely have implications for moving ahead in Judea and Samaria. A haphazard pullout that left issues such as these up in the air would have no popular support in Israel.

Finally, convergence has profound implications for Israel's internal cohesion. Olmert has spoken of the need to act on the basis of a broad national consensus. That promise must be fulfilled. We simply cannot afford to have a further pullout handled as atrociously, by all sides, as disengagement was.

Some settlements have allowed themselves to evolve into psychological ghettos, effectively cut off from the mores of mainstream Israel. Meanwhile, many Israelis have developed a dismissive and dangerously prejudiced attitude toward the settler enterprise – as if all settlers spent their lives harassing Palestinian children on the way to school.

The work of reversing the stereotyping and scapegoating prevalent on both sides of the green line needs to begin, at the very least, in advance of any further pullout.

And how can we talk about moving ahead with convergence until we start seeing the kind of construction able to accommodate – whether in existing settlement blocs, desirable urban neighborhoods, or in the Negev and Galilee – the 70,000-plus citizens who would be displaced by a withdrawal?

Israelis like me support the general direction in which Kadima wants to take the country. But the prime minister would be imprudent, not to say irresponsible, to imagine he has a blank check.

Elliot Jager is editorial features editor of The Jerusalem Post.



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