Is There a Pullout Deadline ? or Not?

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Wednesday no deadline has been set for implementation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s unilateral withdrawal plan. Justice Minister Haim Ramon said there is.

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Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 21:56

The two top officials in the Olmert coalition government sent mixed signals in separate interviews with Army Radio on Wednesday about a deadline for implementing Prime Minister’s unilateral withdrawal plan.

The plan calls for Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from large blocs of land in Yehuda and Shomron while retaining other sections, including eastern Jerusalem. More than 25 Jewish communities, with tens of thousands of Jewish residents, are to be uprooted in the process.

Justice Minister Haim Ramon said Wednesday that Olmert will give the Palestinian Authority (PA) until the end of the year to demonstrate its willingness to begin a new round of peace talks with Israel. “Through the end of this year, 2006, there will be honest attempts to talk to the other side,” he said.

But, he added, “If it becomes clear by the end of the year that we really have no partner, and the international community is also convinced of this, then we will take our fate into our own hands and not leave our fate in the hands of our enemies”.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, meanwhile, denied that any deadline had been set, despite a speech by Olmert on Tuesday in which he told an international conference of mayors that Israel’s patience would stretch just so far.

"If we wait a month, two months, three months, half a year and we don’t see any change,” he told the mayors, then most likely we are going to move forward even without an agreement, without negotiations, in order to define the borders which are acceptable for Israel”.

The next day, Livni said Olmert “was not setting a deadline for the implementation of the convergence”. She said Olmert had only described the route of the permanent borders, not the timeframe during which the unilateral withdrawal would be carried out.

There are many preparations that must be in place before the process of withdrawal could begin, she said. She and Ramon both agreed that the international community would have to be consulted prior to beginning any unilateral withdrawal.

Despite Olmert’s initial pledge to put permanent borders in place by 2010, according to media reports there are plans to complete the process by the end of U.S. President George W. Bush’s term in office in 2008.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has maintained since his Fatah party lost control of the PA government to terrorist group Hamas that he would still be willing to negotiate a peace agreement.

Olmert has maintained a firm stance on the necessity of negotiations being carried out officially with the Hamas-led government, rather than with Abbas’ minority faction.

In addition, Israel will not negotiate with the PA until Hamas fulfills the demands of the Quartet, formally recognizing Israel’s right to exist, renouncing terrorism and agreeing to uphold previous peace agreements.

Despite the loss of millions of dollars in foreign aid from the international community, Hamas continues to refuse to fulfill those conditions. Empty coffers, needy PA Arabs and angry unpaid PA government employees have led to violent clashes between factions in the streets, leaving numerous dead and wounded.

Fatah and Hamas leaders united on Wednesday in calling for calm, ordering its members to lay down their arms in the interest of peace in the PA streets.