The U.S. Stance on Olmert's Plan: Distant

With Prime Minister Olmert in Washington to present his new Unilateral Withdrawal plan, the Bush Administration remains cool to the idea.

Contact Editor
Hillel Fendel, | updated: 17:08

Though the Administration has not taken a clear stand on Olmert's plan to withdraw unilaterally from most of Judea and Samaria, it has often emphasized that it prefers a negotiated solution between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Olmert and Bush are scheduled to meet twice this afternoon, including one meeting just between the two of them. They will also hold a joint press conference about their talks. Olmert met yesterday with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Bush's national security advisor Steve Hadley, and will also hold talks with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.)

Administration officials said the Americans would pose a series of questions about unclear details of the plan.

Mr. Olmert is scheduled to address a joint meeting of both chambers of Congress on Wednesday.

MK Effie Eitam (National Union) told Arutz-7's Hebrew newsmagazine today, "The Americans feel awkward [with Olmert's visit] because they understand that Israel's security and military leadership [is] trying to be 'Sharon's successors,' pushing this Convergence plan even though no one [else] supports it... They will give him [Olmert] respect, but they realize that he... has a basic misunderstanding of the priorities." [See separate article]

Arutz-7 spoke today with Yoram Ettinger, a consultant on U.S.-Israel relations and former liaison for Congressional affairs in the Israel Washington embassy, about the U.S. stance on the Olmert plan. He said that essentially all branches of the U.S. government oppose the plan, but for different reasons.

"The U.S. stance is complex," Ettinger said. "The State Department has always been in favor of Israel's return all the way to the 1949 borders (if not further; before 1967, they wanted Israel to get out of the Negev as well). As long as Israel is not promising to return to the '49 lines, the State Department, headed by Secretary of State Rice, and the CIA as well, will not be satisfied."

A-7: "Isn't it obvious that a withdrawal from so much of Judea and Samaria, as Olmert proposes, would lead to a Palestinian state? Why is such a plan not sufficient for the State Department?"

Ettinger: "It's true, there are those in the State Department who feel that this would be sufficient and would likely lead to a return to the '49 borders - but others see how Israel is planning to annex settlement blocs, and cannot agree.

"On the other hand, the U.S. government is not homogeneous, and certainly the Bush Administration is not, and there are those, such as Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, who have almost a totally opposite view than the State Department on issues such as the Israeli-Arab conflict, Iran, Iraq and many others. Those in this camp are worried about this plan because they see it as a continuation of the Oslo process, which they see as the root of all evil in the Middle East, leading to instability, a prize for terrorism, harm to Israel's deterrence power, and a blow to pro-American interests, goals and allies. Cheney didn't even want to meet with Peres when he came to Israel."

But the bottom line, Ettinger seems to feel, is money. Both sides - those who support Israel and those who don't - are afraid that Israel will ask the United States to fund this plan. "Even if Olmert doesn't ask for the money now," Ettinger said, "they know that the request will come some time or another. This is a terrible time for the U.S. financially. There are fights in Congress over a billion dollars here and a billion there - and now Israel will come and ask for ten billion or more? The U.S. doesn't have the $200 billion it needs for the Katrina relief efforts, and oil prices are skyrocketing, and there are fears of the real estate market and the stock exchange plunging, and there is a major problem of the deficit - for Olmert to request money at a time like this shows a basic lack of understanding of what's going on in the United States. It also shows a basic misunderstanding of how foreign aid harms Israel, but that's a different story."

"If Israel were to ask for money to fund a war against terrorism," Ettinger continued, "then that might be a different story. But to ask for money to do that which the U.S. itself doesn't do - give in to terrorism - how can that be justified? And furthermore: If the U.S. had initiated this plan, then there also might be a basis for asking for money - but not when this is an Israeli-made plan..."

Ettinger said that Secretary Rice would support Olmert's plan if he would promise that in the end, it would lead to Israel's return to its 1949 borders. What about President Bush's famous letter to Ariel Sharon of April, 2004 in which he supposedly guaranteed U.S. support for retaining major settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria? Ettinger told Arutz-7 last year that this letter “was grossly misrepresented by the Prime Minister [Sharon] and his spokesman. Bush has not committed the United States to recognizing anything beyond the 1949 cease-fire lines. Bush doesn’t recognize any single settlement or blocs of settlements.”

The sponsors of the recent White House campaign - in which people have been asked to register their protests of Olmert's plan by dialing the White House at 202 456 1111 - say the campaign has not been suspended. "On the contrary," says Suzie Dym of Cities of Israel. "While Prime Minister Olmert's office is trying to lull the orange [anti-withdrawal] public by saying that Olmert will be talking in Washington mainly about Iran and the like, the fact is that he will be talking about his withdrawal plan as much as he can. We therefore again urge people to make a last minute effort to call the White House." See for details.