New Israel: Plans To
Redraw Border On West Bank
By Donald Macintyre
30 March 2006
Sharon's successor, Ehud Olmert, began the task of building a workable
coalition yesterday after Israelis voted, for the first time, to return
a majority of MPs committed to dismantling settlements in the West Bank.
The Labour party's 20 Knesset
members could become more influential than expected under its leader,
Amir Peretz, in a new coalition, after Mr Olmert's Kadima party secured
just 28 seats, significantly fewer than predicted.
Mr Peretz's influence may
in time be reflected in pressure on Mr Olmert to begin a negotiating
process alongside his plans for withdrawal from settlements east of
the 450-mile separation barrier, sections of which cut deep into the
The probably unilateral withdrawal
could affect a total of about 70,000 settlers.
Otiniel Scheller, a Kadima
Knesset member said yesterday that Kadima would need at least a year
to finalise a detailed plan to withdraw from parts of the West Bank.
Mr Scheller, a settler who said he been drawing up the plan over the
past few weeks said that, for the first year or so, the government would
wait to see whether the new Hamas-led Palestinian government would recognise
Israel, accept past agreements, and renounce violence. In the meantime,
Mr Olmert would talk to Jewish settlers about alternative places to
live, he said. The present barrier cuts into the West Bank to the east
of the 1949-1967 "green line" between Israel and the Palestinian
territories, leaving former Palestinian agricultural land as well as
the biggest settlement blocks on the Israeli side of the barrier.
In the following two to three
years, Israel would build alternative communities for the settlers,
either in the big West Bank settlement blocs that Israel intends to
retain between the pre-1967 border and the 450-mile separation barrier
or in areas in Israel. Mr Scheller insisted the new borders would allow
a contiguous Palestinian state, though in the absence of a peace deal
the Army would remain in the evacuated areas. "The wisdom of the
plan is that there is no precise timetable," he added.
As some of the 11 members
in the depleted Likud party showed signs of turning on their leader,
the former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there was increasing speculation
that Mr Olmert planned to form a coalition with Labour, one or both
of the two ultra-orthodox parties, and the Pensioners' Party.
The success of the latter
party, led by the former Mossad spymaster Rafi Etian - which in its
first entry into the Israeli parliament secured seven seats for its
single-issue programme - was the biggest surprise of the election.
Mr Netanyahu, who insisted
on Tuesday he would carry on as leader, was confronting the implications
of a double defeat for Likud's right-wing ideology.
The first defeat was that
his consistent raising of the spectre of a newly-empowered Hamas failed
to impress Israeli electors to vote for him as the leader of the one
big party unambiguously opposed to unilateral withdrawals from occupied
And the second was a fierce
backlash against his neo-Thatcherite welfare-cutting polices. One senior
government official said he judged Mr Peretz as one of the key victors
of the election because of his success in mounting an assault on Mr
Netanyahu's social policies. "This is the first election in which
social and economic issues have been at the forefront along with the
security issue," the official said.
That was reflected in the
gains made not only by Labour but also by the Pensioners Party and the
ultra-orthodox Shas, which took 11 seats. Labour reportedly contacted
Shas and the Pensioners' Party last night in an attempt to form a "social
bloc" for coalition negotiations that the senior Kadima Knesset
member Haim Ramon said he expected to be completed soon after the Passover
holiday in mid-April.
Mr Peretz has repeatedly
made it clear that he wants to see negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas and
that unilateral measures should only be taken as a last resort. Ismail
Haniyeh, the new Hamas Palestinian Prime Minister said after his Cabinet
was sworn in by Mr Abbas in Gaza yesterday that " whatever Mr Abbas
presents to the people as a result of the negotiations serves our interests,
then we will also redefine our position."
President George Bush congratulated
Mr Olmert on his victory yesterday and invited him to the White House.
Mr Olmert indicated again
he was ready for negotiations if Hamas reversed its refusal to recognise
Israel. But he has made it clear he will seek to negotiate new borders
annexing the largest settlement blocs with the US and with
sectors of Israeli society, including the settlers if he cannot negotiate
with the Palestinians.
Although the plan for settlement
withdrawals will be warmly welcomed by the international "Quartet"
of the US, EU, UN and Russia, the idea of unilaterally fixed borders
may trigger international disquiet. Tony Blair yesterday welcomed Kadima's
victory as one that "changes the shape of Israeli politics."
He added: "I look forward
to meeting him soon to discuss his plans to take the peace process forward.
I urge all parties to pursue a path of positive engagement as set out
by the Quartet"
New players in the Knesset
KADIMA (28 seats)
Centrist party headed by
acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who calls for Israel to impose final
borders in the absence of peace talks with the Palestinians.
Headed by Amir Peretz. Supports
West Bank withdrawal.Expected coalition partner with Kadima.
Ultra-Orthodox partyhas a
middle-ground view on the conflict. A potential coalition partner.
YISRAEL BEITENU (12)
Ultranationalist party which
has called for ceding villages to the Palestinians in exchange for Jewish
Suffered its worst election
defeat in decades. Opposes unilateral withdrawals and said it would
not seek to join a Kadima-led coalition.
PARTY/NATIONAL UNION (9)
A merger of Jewish settlers
who opposed last year's Gaza Strip withdrawal. Unlikely to join a coalition.
ARAB PARTIES (10)
Left-wing parties that call
for a withdrawal from occupied land.
'The victory of the centrist
sensibility marks the end of extravagant dreams'
Amira Hass WRITER & JOURNALIST,
"This election result
is alarming. The parties that will make up this future coalition know
how to lead us to what they call 'peace', but what is actually a situation
keeping the Palestinians in an unviable state. Talk of withdrawal from
Palestinian territory is nice in theory. But we are still talking about
occupation. I am suspicious of this kind of 'progress'."
David Horovitz EDITOR-IN-CHIEF,
"If the results of exit
polls are reflected in final figures, then the elections are a vindication
of Sharon - the stricken PM, the man who so conspicuously wasn't there
for this campaign. Sharon, it appears, didn't merely break away from
the Likud with Kadima. He broke the Likud. And the results are a stinging
rejection of Netanyahu - the politician and the ideology."
Yossi Klein Halevi POLITICAL
ANALYST AND WRITER
"The victory of the
centrist sensibility marks the end of Israel's extravagant dreams. The
collapse of utopian ideology is a sign of the country's maturation.
The settlement movement ignored the moral corruption of occupation and
the demographic threat to Israel's identity as a Jewish and democratic
state posed by the forcible absorption of millions of Palestinians into
Pinchas Wallerstein LEADER
OF PSAGOT SETTLEMENT
"Our public is worn
out. It went through an expulsion and the Amona incidents. We have to
self-examine ourselves. If someone thinks what happened in Amona was
an isolated incident, he is hallucinating. There is no leftist majority
here for a unilateral disengagement... a withdrawal of the kind that
we saw in [Gaza's] Gush Katif, with hugs and kisses, will not repeat
Yair Lapid SCRIPTWRITER,
ACTOR AND COLUMNIST FOR YEDIOTH AHRONOTH
"The people do not want
to continue to hold on to the [occupied] territories, it supports the
next disengagement, and it isn't willing to see its grandfather starve
Michael Dahan POLITICAL SCIENTIST
Both Netanyahu and Olmert
referred to the election in terms of a referendum. I think the public
also treated it as such. Those that voted seemed to consider their votes
carefully, and voted strategically in order to strengthen Kadima's chances
to withdraw from the territories. Olmert has quite a job."
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited