Speaking with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Prime Minister Olmert said, "I'll surprise you. I genuinely believe that the outcome of the present [conflict] and the emergence of a new order that will provide more stability and will defeat the forces of terror will help create the necessary environment that will allow me... to create a new momentum between us and the Palestinians."
"We want to separate from the Palestinians," he added. "I'm ready to do it. I'm ready to cope with these demands. It's not easy, it's very difficult, but we are elected to our positions to do things and not to sit idle."
Word of Olmert's statements quickly spread through the ranks of the IDF units fighting in Lebanon. Army Radio featured a father from Ofrah, one of the communities slated for destruction due to its proximity on the "other" side of the Partition Wall. "I text-messaged my two sons serving in Lebanon to tell them to come home," he said. "It is outrageous that the man sending them to war states that the victory they are risking their lives for will result in their family being expelled from their home, allowing it to become exactly what Gaza and southern Lebanon have become."
Shortly after, it was reported that at least ten reservists had refused to continue their emergency reserve duty if further withdrawals are truly the goal of the operation.
Olmert's public relations team later insisted that the war with Hizbullah has nothing to do with his plan, stating his planned ‘realignment’ must move forward as he promised it would prior to being elected.
Among the critics of Olmert’s plan is MK Dr. Yossi Beilin, who heads the left-wing Meretz-Yahad opposition party. Beilin stated there can be no additional unilateral Israeli policies, only withdrawals resulting from negotiations and agreements. His remarks were echoed by Arab MK Mohammad Barakeh.
Likud MK Gidon Sa’ar stated that the so-called realignment plan would bring the rockets to fall upon the entire country, and not the just the north and south as is the case today.
MK Dr. Ephraim Sneh (Labor), a former deputy defense minister, stated that it is obvious from the prime minister’s remarks that he has learned nothing from the unilateral withdrawals from Gaza and southern Lebanon.
The prime minister currently enjoys widespread support for his ongoing effort to destroy Hizbullah. Some critics are accusing the prime minister of taking advantage of his popularity to advance his political agenda, explaining he has made an error since he is splitting the nation at this critical time.
MK Effie Eitam (National Union-NRP), a retired IDF brigadier-general and former commander of forces in southern Lebanon, has been advising the prime minister and Defense Minister Amir Peretz frequently since the war broke out over three weeks ago. Eitam was quick to comment on Olmert’s AP interview, stating he made a tactical error, splitting the nation at this critical time.
Eitam told the media that following the prime minister’s interview, he was contacted by many rabbis and deans of IDF preparatory yeshiva programs, all expressing concerns regarding the timing of the prime minister’s remarks as the nation is in a state of war.
Realizing Eitam was the unofficial liaison to the Orthodox community that supports Olmert during the ongoing Hizbullah war, the Prime Minister’s Office was quick to contact him, seeking to implement damage control. Aides to the prime minister quickly issued a clarification, stating the realignment was not intended to have been the main focus of the AP interview.
Asking Eitam to convey a message to the Torah-observant public, the prime minister announced that at present, he is only dealing with efforts to halt rocket attacks, nothing else.
The prime minister’s interview broke the current momentum, with rabbis and other right-wing community leaders calling to reevaluate the war in the north, explaining it is unconscionable that soldiers living in Judea and Samaria fight for the country and then be evicted from their homes by the same army.
Eitam was called upon by Olmert to act as a go-between, seeking to allay fears and repair the damage resulting from his interview.
Eitam told the media that following a conversation with the prime minister, it is clear to him that the realignment/expulsion would not be dealt with at present. Eitam admits that the plan will be problematic at some time in the future, after the war, but for now, the nation must remain united behind the government while efforts continue to eliminate the Hizbullah threat.
Wednesday night, at a gathering of some 15,000 Jews who marched around Jerusalem's Old City at the fast of Tisha B'Av began, Women in Green co-founder Nadia Matar called upon all those present to bring their children home from the war front in order to defend their homes in Judea and Samaria, unless Olmert announces the cancellation of his plan.
Manhigut Yehudit, the Jewish Leadership faction within the Likud, was calling for refusal even prior to PM Olmert's explicit statements, saying it was obvious that the war's goal is to prove to the Israeli public that past withdrawals had been beneficial.
Already last week, Manhigut director Michael Fuah issued such a call. “We must remember what the IDF was busy with exactly a year ago,” he wrote in an essay published on Arutz-7's Hebrew site Tuesday. “The IDF, in its present state, is not capable of beating Hizbullah. When one adds the supposed ethical code the IDF is charged with – where the Defense Minister praises a soldier for refraining from shooting at a terrorist holding a child on one hand and his gun in the other – there is no chance for victory.”
Fuah adds that he realizes the stance is not a popular one, but while the Prime Minister continues to say he will continue with the destruction of Jewish communities and the expulsion of their residents, only such a refusal movement can demand:
1. Replacement of the IDF top brass who took part in the expulsion.
2. Rewriting of the IDF's ethical code to rule out endangering soldiers to protect the lives of terrorists and those around them.
3. A decision by the Knesset and the cabinet allowing all those expelled from Gaza, Samaria and the Sinai to return to their homes.
More than 10% of soldiers killed in combat in Lebanon hail from towns in Judea and Samaria - three times their proportion in the general population.