Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Confessions of a Kadima voter

I voted for Kadima because I supported Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. There’s no need to rehash the persuasive diplomatic, strategic and domestic reasons why the pullout was a good idea.

But my support for the disengagement idea does not mean I favor rushing into a further West Bank pullout. Not now. Not yet.

On the contrary, Israel is “parked” in a good place while events in the Palestinian areas play themselves out, the security barrier is completed and policy makers assess what our Gaza departure has done for the country’s international standing and for domestic cohesion.
In other words, disengagement was a costly experiment whose results have not yet been fully analyzed.

I didn’t vote for the right-wing parties because they opposed any withdrawal from any territory under (virtually) any circumstances. And I didn’t vote for the left-wing parties because they were itching for unconditional negotiations with the Palestinians and favored uprooting (virtually) every West Bank settlement.

I prefer realistic policies to anachronistic ideologies; meaning that, like other Kadima voters, I accept that Israel can’t rule over millions of hostile Arabs in perpetuity, ignore international opprobrium over the so-called occupation, or allow cleavages over the settlement enterprise to rend Israel’s body politic asunder.


THE ONLY THING that’s new since I cast my ballot for Kadima less than two months ago is my discomfiture at Ehud Olmert’s speed. He told a group of visiting US mayors last week that he’s ready to “wait a month, two months, three months, half a year” before moving forward.

But with Disengagement I behind us, a Hamas-led PA in power and an international community that seems primed to take the heat off the Islamists by funneling moneys to cover the salaries – not just of PA doctors, nurses and teachers, but also gunmen – the operative question is: How can Israel move forward without making matters worse? Certainly not by lurching ahead, when the situation demands cautious deliberation.

Disengagement is supposed to be a strategy, not a theology. I would expect leftists to adhere to the Geneva Initiative and rightists to uphold the Greater Israel teachings of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, regardless of real-world events.

But I opted for the pragmatic party precisely because I wanted leaders who would calibrate policy to reality. So I’m glad that a committee headed by incoming Foreign Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovich is right now analyzing the challenges that implementing convergence would pose.

At the end of the day, future withdrawals should be carried out only if they result in lasting diplomatic gains such as de-facto US and EU recognition of the new boundaries; if they enhance the personal security of Israelis; and if they set the stage for making our society more cohesive.


OLMERT IS scheduled to meet with President George W. Bush on May 23 to launch his diplomatic push for convergence. The prime minister’s working assumption is that Washington sees Disengagement II as the only game in town.

But writing in the April 7 Jerusalem Post, former US special envoy Dennis Ross predicted that while the administration is “likely to be open and encouraging about” an Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank, “no one should assume that such talks” would “be quick or easy.”
Sure enough, the White House has already signaled that it’s not keen on picking up the multi-billion-dollar tab a West Bank pullout would incur.

And an Olmert-Bush meeting resulting in a vague, non-binding memorandum that speaks in broad terms immediately open to contrasting interpretations should be a red light to any further unilateral moves by Israel.

Olmert also needs to listen very carefully to what the EU is saying: Europe has made it plain it wants to see Jerusalem negotiate with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Behind the scenes – and with Israeli acquiescence – Palestinian factions, led by inmates incarcerated in Israel’s Hadarim Prison, are pushing a formula that would give Abbas sufficient clout to make negotiations a credible exercise.

While most Israelis see talks with Abbas as a futile charade, the process must nevertheless play itself out. But even if the international community gets over its delusions about the value of “talking to Abu Mazen,” there would still be no point in a West Bank pullout if it didn’t result in an imprimatur of international legitimacy for our new – albeit impermanent – boundaries.


CONVERGENCE ALSO has sobering security ramifications. The IDF needs time to work out how to prevent enemy rockets from landing in Tel Aviv, just 18 km. from the West Bank. Strategic depth, as residents of Sderot and Ashkelon can testify, still matters. That Gaza’s Kassam and Katyusha problem has yet to be solved must surely have implications for moving ahead in Judea and Samaria.

Also we need to allow the IDF time to figure out how it can operate in Judea and Samaria (and the Jordan Valley) long after a second disengagement. What are the military implications of losing settlements situated at strategic junctures and on mountaintops? What happens to the listening posts in Samaria?

With the situation on our eastern front in flux (think Iran and Iraq) and with an obdurate Islamist leadership directing Palestinian affairs, Israeli security control of the West Bank remains indispensable. A haphazard pullout that left issues such as these up in the air would have no popular support in Israel.


FINALLY, CONVERGENCE has profound implications for Israel’s internal cohesion. Olmert has spoken of the need to act on the basis of a broad national consensus. That promise must be fulfilled. We simply cannot afford to have a further pullout handled as atrociously, by all sides, as disengagement was.

Some settlements have allowed themselves to evolve into psychological ghettos, effectively cut off from the mores of mainstream Israel. Meanwhile, many Israelis have developed a dismissive and dangerously prejudiced attitude toward the settler enterprise – as if all settlers spent their lives harassing Palestinian children on the way to school.

The work of reversing the stereotyping and scapegoating prevalent on both sides of the Green Line needs to begin, at the very least, in advance of any further pullout.

And how can we talk about moving ahead with convergence until we start seeing the kind of construction able to accommodate – whether in existing settlement blocs, desirable urban neighborhoods, or in the Negev and Galilee – the 70,000-plus citizens who would be displaced by a withdrawal?


AGAINST THIS background, with so many of the diplomatic, security and domestic issues surrounding another pullout still up in the air, it is perplexing that the prime minister appears so frantically committed to moving full speed ahead.

Israelis like me support the general direction in which Kadima wants to take the country. But the prime minister would be imprudent, not to say irresponsible, to imagine he has a blank check.
With only 29 seats in the Knesset (not the pollsters’ anticipated 40) and a coalition already showing signs of fragmenting, the last thing Olmert should want to do is lose faith with pragmatic voters who gave him their support on March 28.

My advice: When Mr. Olmert goes to Washington, he should do a lot more listening than talking.

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