Olmert's West Bank Withdrawal Moves to Back Burner

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan to remove some 70,000 Israelis from their homes and communities in the West Bank has been moved to the back burner because of more pressing matters -- the war in Lebanon and the damage to communities in northern Israel, an Israeli newspaper reported on Friday.

Olmert told ministers and senior members of his Kadima party that it was inappropriate to discuss the convergence place at this time, Ha'aretz said.

Quoting unnamed sources in Kadima, Ha'aretz said Olmert had mentioned fundamental changes in the past few weeks were forcing an adjustment in the government's priorities.

While the Palestinian problem cannot be ignored, Olmert said the government now had to face the "enormous challenge" of rebuilding northern Israel, which would consume most of the government's time and resources.

The Kadima sources said Olmert's so-called "convergence plan" would not be implemented at all, at least not anytime soon. But even during the war, Olmert contradicted that view, saying that the war in Lebanon actually strengthened his plan for a West Bank withdrawal. But that was before Israel "lost" the battle against Hizballah.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon founded the Kadima party late last year, pledging to reach an agreement with the Palestinians and saying that he would not undertake further unilateral withdrawals as he did from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank communities last summer.

But following Sharon's debilitating stroke, Olmert pushed the party platform further and vowed to set the borders of Israel by 2010 by withdrawing from the West Bank unilaterally - in the absence of a Palestinian "partner for peace."

Now some analysts are questioning whether the Kadima party will survive.

A small group of about 100 protestors gathered in Tel Aviv on Thursday demanding the resignation of the government over the mishandling of the war in Lebanon. It could be the harbinger of more trouble to come for Olmert's government.

More than a month of rocket attacks on northern Israel forced a million Israelis to flee their homes or live in bomb shelters and security rooms. That - combined with continuing rocket attacks on southern Israeli communities -- has emphasized Israel's vulnerability to such attacks.

Critics of last year's Gaza disengagement plan warned that it would merely embolden the terrorists and lead to an increase in rocket attacks deeper inside Israel, and those predictions have come true.

Critics of Olmert's convergence plan have warned that a withdrawal from West Bank territory would be even worse because it would deprive Israel of any strategic depth and would increase its vulnerability to rocket attacks.

Abu Nasser, a commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction, said his group had learned from Hizballah that missiles make the difference.

"If [we] achieve expertise in this field, we won't make do with the simple rockets we have," Abu Nasser was quoted as saying by the Israeli Internet site YNET. "There is no doubt we can subdue Israel."

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