PM Joins Growing Consensus Against Unilateral Withdrawal

In an interview with Chinese news agency Xinhua, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that unilateral withdrawal has proven to be a failed policy.

Nissan Ratzlav-Katz & Hana Levi Julian , | updated: 9:10 AM

While he expressed willingness to negotiate a withdrawal from most of Judea and Samaria, Olmert said that it would only be done in the framework of bilateral negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. This is in contradiction to the terms of a unilateral withdrawal plan, dubbed "convergence", that Olmert was promoting as late as this past summer.

In spring of 2006, Olmert set a deadline for PA leaders to come to the negotiating table to discuss permanent borders with Israel. If the PA leadership did not manage to make it to the table by the end of the year, he warned, Israel would get the job anyway - alone. At the time, the Prime Minister said he was convinced that unilateral withdrawal was the only way to ensure a Jewish majority in the Jewish State and to provide effective security for Israeli citizens, if the PA continued to refuse to cooperate on measures to reach a final status agreement.

Olmert explained his new position to the Chinese interviewer by reference to the Israeli withdrawals from Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005, both of which, he said, encouraged terrorism and increased the likelihood of war.

"A year ago, I believed that we would be able to do this unilaterally," he told reporters ahead of a three-day trip to China, which began Tuesday morning. "However, it should be said that our experience in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip is not encouraging. We pulled out of Lebanon unilaterally, and see what happened. We pulled out of the Gaza Strip completely, to the international border, and every day they are firing Kassam rockets at Israelis. Under the existing circumstances, it would be more practical to achieve a two-state solution through negotiations rather than [unilateral] withdrawal."

Under the unilateral Disengagement Plan, Israel withdrew military personnel and uprooted entire civilian Jewish communities - constituting 9,000 people - from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria areas.

With his latest statements, the prime minister is joining other political leaders in retroactive criticism of Ariel Sharon's unilateral withdrawal policy, which Olmert supported and defended vigorously at the time. Foreign Minister Tzippy Livni was recently quoted as saying that the Disengagement has proven to only have strengthened the "extremists," as she called the Islamist terror organizations, in the Palestinian Authority. At the same time, in December Livni expressed her support for negotiations with the PA leadership over all outstanding issues even as PA-based terrorism against Israeli civilians continues.

On Monday night, Defense Minister Amir Peretz unveiled his own diplomatic plan to reach accommodation with the Palestinian Authority. Calling it a "new Road Map," in reference to the US- and EU-backed plan called the Road Map to Peace, Peretz's plan is based on negotiations with the PA's Fatah leadership.