Kadima Member Sheetrit Opposes Unilateral Withdrawal Plan

Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) came out publicly Monday in opposition to Kadima Chairman PM Olmert’s unilateral withdrawal plan. Other Kadima ministers agree with Sheetrit as well.

Hana Levi Julian , | updated: 21:38

Sheetrit said, “The current chances of implementing the realignment plan are very slim; there are many reservations, including my own. I do not believe in another unilateral disengagement.”

Ministers Gideon Ezra and Ze'ev Boim are said to agree that a unilateral withdrawal is not on the agenda at present.

Sheetrit's remarks, in an interview with the Knesset television channel, came in the wake of a statement by Olmert to foreign journalists at a news conference in Jerusalem earlier in the day. Olmert reiterated that he was determined to move ahead with his unilateral withdrawal plan -- regardless of the continuing Kassam rocket attacks on southern Israel and the kidnapping by terrorists of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit. “It won’t stop the inevitable process of separation of Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.

The plan would require Israel to withdraw from large blocs of territory in Judea, Samaria and possibly Jerusalem, and to do so unilaterally if the Palestinian Authority remains unwilling to negotiate by the end of the year. In the process, Olmert has said he intends to set permanent boundaries by 2008, with at least 70,000 Jewish residents expelled from more than 25 communities as well.

Sheetrit commented that there is no room for additional unilateral disengagements by Israel, stating further that the realignment is not a part of the Kadima Party platform. Nor was it ever a plan of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s, Sheetrit said, as Sharon “was opposed to another Israeli withdrawal.”

“I am a proponent of peace," Sheetrit said, following Olmert's remarks in favor of another withdrawal, "but of the kind that will come after negotiations. I believe we must be patient until there is someone to talk to. We should not carry out any unilateral steps.”

Environment Minister Gideon Ezra, as well, commented that the current IDF operation in Gaza and the ongoing barrage of Kassam rocket attacks against southern Israel leave little room for other military activity.

“We cannot live with a narrow corridor such as the ‘border corridor’ created near Ariel,” said Ezra. “I hope this war will make the Palestinian people understand that they must reach an agreement with us – for their own sake. It is better to have political understandings, but when there are none, we need broad and defensible borders.”

Ezra also noted, “Right now we are doing nothing to promote realignment.”

Reactions to Sheetrit’s statements were not long in coming. Kadima party member and Minister of Immigrant Absorption Ze'ev Boim said, "Strategically, the realignment is the best thing that can be done in order to set Israel's permanent borders. But the big question is whether it could be done when the cannons are firing. I don't know if it's possible.”

Yisrael Beiteinu opposition party leader MK Avigdor Lieberman commented that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert cannot even persuade party colleagues to support him.” Lieberman questioned how the prime minister could expect the support of the international community when his own colleagues oppose the plan. He called on Olmert to reevaluate the direction of his government.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s Office issued its own statement in response to Sheetrit’s remarks, saying, "Despite the fact that [it] comes from ideological motives, we are positive that Minister Sheetrit will change his mind." The issue of party loyalty was underscored in the statement: "When the issue is brought in to be approved, he will honor the government and the party's discipline."