Olmert's Withdrawal Plan Bad for Israel and US, Some Say

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

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan to withdraw from large parts of the West Bank will not only be a security nightmare for Israel but could hamper the U.S.-led war on global terrorism, some analysts are saying.

Olmert, who is due to meet with President Bush at the White House next week, will outline what he is calling his convergence plan for the first time, reports have said. Olmert has pledged to set Israel's final borders -- with or without negotiations with the Palestinians -- by 2010.

In the absence of a Palestinian peace partner, Olmert has indicated that he will complete Israel's West Bank security barrier and uproot some 60,000-100,000 Israelis from 70-100 communities in the West Bank. That would concentrate the Israeli population in several major settlement blocs in the remainder of the West Bank.

Bush's backing for the plan is crucial. Washington reportedly has responded coolly so far to an additional, unilateral Israeli withdrawal. The U.S. and the rest of its Quartet partners - the European Union, Russia, and United Nations - want to see a return to the road map peace plan and a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Opponents of the plan point to last summer's pullout from the Gaza Strip (and four northern West Bank settlements) as proof that further withdrawals from the West Bank would be disastrous.

Retired Israeli Army Col. Shuki Rynski, a deputy commander of the Gaza Division until shortly before last summer's pullout, said a unilateral withdrawal like the one last summer would only create the same security problems in the West Bank.

"Everything that is happening in the Gaza Strip and around [it] -- we can imagine the same [things will happen] in all the places of Judea and Samaria [West Bank]," said Rynski.

Palestinian terrorists are launching rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israeli communities. Two days ago, a Katyusha rocket (with a longer range than the usual Kassams and a more explosive warhead) fell in an Israeli border community, he said. (Thirty chickens were killed but there were no human injuries.)

Even though there are no longer any Jewish settlements in the northernmost part of the West Bank - they were evacuated during the disengagement - the Israeli army continues to carry out military operations there, he said.

During an arrest operation near the northern West Bank city of Jenin earlier this week, six Islamic Jihad terrorists were killed in a shootout.

"It brings us to the understanding [that] even if we want to leave the places there is no choice but to hold them with troops," said Rynski.

Security experts allied with Olmert have suggested as much. They have said that Israel may need to engage in two pullouts - the first of civilians and the second of the military - but only after an agreement can be reached with the P.A.

Former Israeli Army Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon told an American audience earlier this week that the idea of withdrawing behind a fence is not the way to deal with terrorism.

"The best defense is a good offense, not a fence," Ya'alon was quoted by the Arutz-7 website as saying. "The best way to deal with terrorists is to arrest them or kill them in their beds."

Ya'alon said that the disengagement from Gaza had propelled Hamas to an overwhelming election victory and left a legacy for the next generation "who will deal with Palestinians who believe that terrorism pay, that Israel cuts and runs under pressure."

Jewish majority

The idea behind Olmert's plan is that Israel will be able to consolidate its population, firmly establishing its Jewish majority with as few Palestinians included within its borders as possible.

Doing so would decrease Israeli contact with the Palestinians, supposedly reducing friction and increasing Israel's international standing, he said.

Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto, an independent analyst, believes it is the only solution because Israel has never struck its own agreement with an Arab entity.

"All [Israeli-Arab] agreements have been brokered by the U.N. or the Americans," said Tsiddon-Chatto. Therefore Israel would be better off to obtain guarantees from the Americans and international community like the 1917 British Balfour Declaration, which led to the creation of the State of Israel, he said.

"It will not endanger the security of the State of Israel," said Tsiddon-Chatto, a retired Israeli Air Colonel and former head of the planning for the Israeli Air Force.

Israel must look at itself in the wider context of Islam and the world, he said. If Israel is forced to take military actions that displease the world, it might "dig its own grave," he said. For a country, in which 80 percent of its GNP comes from foreign trade, Israel cannot risk the possibility of international sanctions, he added.

A threat to US interests

Independent analyst Yoram Ettinger, a former Israeli Embassy liaison to the U.S. Congress, said that vital U.S. interests would be compromised by Olmert's proposed withdrawal from the West Bank.

"Israel's 2005 retreat has been perceived as a cave-in," said Ettinger. "It paved the road to the Hamas' electoral victory and upgraded the posture of Islamic Jihad and al Qaeda, thus providing friendly platforms for Iran, Syria, Sudan, Yemen and the pro-Saddam elements," Ettinger said.

"[The] bolstered Palestinian profile constitutes a present and immediate lethal danger to pro-U.S. regimes in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states, threatening U.S. troops in the Gulf area," he said.

According to Caroline Glick of the Center for Security Policy, a further Israeli withdrawal would be "perceived as a strategic victory for global jihad" and would spur recruitment efforts of groups like al Qaeda.

"Although an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the dismantlement of Israeli communities there seems consonant with traditional American policies in the Middle East, in light of the radicalization of Palestinian society, as evidenced by the Hamas' electoral victory in January 2006, it is unclear how an Israeli withdrawal today will align with U.S. national security interests and goals," she wrote in a paper.

The State Department has always opposed Israel's settlement presence in the West Bank.

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