Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert testified Wednesday before a Knesset committee tasked with assisting Jews expelled under the 2005 Disengagement. In his testimony, Olmert backed the forced removal of thousands of Jews from Gaza and northern Samaria, saying, “I am entirely convinced that the government did the right thing at the right time.”
"There could not have been a better time for the Disengagement. When it comes to decisions that part of the public disagrees with, there's never an ideal time,” Olmert continued. Postponing the destruction of Jewish communities in Gaza would have made things worse, he added, as it would have enabled the the camp that opposed the decision to grow stronger.
Olmert dismissed arguments that the Disengagement led to an increase in terrorist attacks from Gaza. “I don't believe that, there was terrorism before and it continued afterward,” the former PM said.
Agreeing to withdraw completely from Gaza won Israel political concessions, Olmert argued. He pointed to a letter from former United States President George Bush “in which the U.S. said that Israel is not responsible for the 'refugees' in Gaza [and that] the [final] borders will not need to those of 1967, and that a Palestinian state will not be established before terrorism against Israel ceases.”
"That letter has weight, that's not the kind of opportunity that a person can decide to miss,” he said.
Bush's successor, U.S. President Barack Obama, does not recognize the statements made by Bush in his post-Disengagement letter. The letter was never part of an official, signed agreement, the Obama administration argues.
Rabbis to Blame for Delays
Olmert, whose administration failed to rehabilitate the thousands of Jews expelled from Gaza, blamed rabbis and “misplaced hope” for the expellees' situation. Former Gaza residents insisted on staying in their homes because they believed the Disengagement could be prevented, he said.
"Some of the residents thought that at the last minute there would be a 'Divine intervention,' and the Disengagement would not happen, because their rabbis said so. This false hope characterized the entire process,” he said.
"There is no doubt in my mind that expellees are hoping this committee will decide, in the end, that we should return to Gush Katif... This hope that somehow the situation can change is what's causing the expellees' situation to remain as it is,” Olmert concluded.
Second Lebanon War – a Resounding Success?
In addition to defending the disengagement from Gaza and northern Samaria, Olmert defended the Second Lebanon War, which was fought under his administration. The war was an example of how Israel can fight terrorism without being present in the territory in which terrorists are based, Olmert said.
"We gave the other side a blow, and today, three years later – not only is there not a single bullet, there isn't a single member of Hizbullah walking around bearing a weapon in southern Lebanon,” Olmert claimed.
Military experts have warned that Hizbullah is in fact present in southern Lebanon, and has more than rebuilt its former weapons armaments. In addition, since fighting Israel in 2006, the group has gained significant power within the Lebanese government, and is expected to hold one-third of the cabinet seats in the next government.