Weekly Commentary: Thinking through retreat
Aaron Lerner Date: 23 March 2006
What happens if Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert succeeds next week in
getting enough votes to put together a stable "retreat coalition"?
According to Olmert, once Israel determines that the absence of a
Palestinian partner renders the Roadmap irrelevant (a determination that can
be made in 60 seconds) his team would negotiate and implement an Israeli
retreat from most of the West Bank.
These talks would take place both within Israeli society and with various
foreign countries out of an interest in imbuing the retreat line
Mr. Olmert has been careful not to specify where the retreat lines will be
but has indicated that some major settlement blocs would be retained by
This is not the first time that the Israeli public has been assured that the
reward for retreat would be international recognition of the "settlement
The Sharon team claimed that the major pay back for retreat from the Gaza
Strip was American recognition of Israel's right to retain the "settlement
blocs" when in fact the "reward" was only the suggestion by the United
States that, contrary to the Palestinian position, those blocs were
legitimate negotiating chips that could be expected to have some value in
final status talks.
As a legitimate negotiating chip, for example, the United States might
expect Israel to be able to trade them, for Ramat Eshkol, French Hill and
other Jewish neighborhood beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem.
But, as America made clear repeatedly, they made these observations as
kibitzers on the sideline - not negotiators.
To repeat: the "reward" for retreating from Gaza was not an American
commitment to support Israel's retention of the major settlement blocs but
instead only the remark from the sidelines that America thinks Israel might
be able to get something in return for relinquishing them to the
Palestinians - but that it is ultimately up to the Palestinians to decide.
While the Sharon team insisted that this wasn't the case, the route of the
separation fence serves as a clear indication that they were well aware of
the true meaning of the American remarks.
Here was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the very apogee of world support
thanks to his retreat plan and he couldn't put the Ariel bloc within the
What then can be expected to be the dynamics of the "retreat talks"?
Internally, the Olmert team would negotiate with either official or
unofficial representatives of the Israeli West Bank communities (there are
some who joined the Kadima Party in the expectation that this would somehow
put them in a more effective negotiating position) to reach ostensibly
"consensus" retreat lines.
The area within these retreat lines would then be whittled down as the
Olmert team sought foreign recognition of the retreat with each interlocutor
seeking to take credit for inducing Israel to deepen its retreat even
further both geographically and functionally.
Some retreat proponents claim that Israel would bulldoze the communities
beyond the fence but still retain its military presence but the issue of
military presence is exactly the kind of functional question that Israel
would be pressed to yield on as it seeks foreign support for the retreat.
By the same token, one can expect considerable pressure on Israel to yield
on such issues as the establishment of some kind of land link between the
West Bank and Jordan (following the Rafah model that stripped Israel of
control) and even possibly an air corridor.
But would this then ultimately mean retreating to internationally recognized
At best it means retreating to lines that would ultimately serve as the
opening point for Arab-Israeli final status talks.
There is, of course, another element in the picture. The Hamas dominated PA.
The goal of the Olmert retreat is ostensibly to reduce Israeli casualties by
retreating from areas where there is considerable "friction".
And since the contours of the Olmert retreat would also be driven by
"friction avoidance" it follows that the Palestinians would do everything in
their power to apply "friction" to induce greater withdrawals.
Put simply: the Olmert team would reward Palestinian terror with ever deeper
A vote for Kadima isn't a vote over nuance. It isn't a vote over
personalities. A vote for Kadima is a vote for retreat to temporary lines
that will only invite Palestinian terror to induce further retreats.
Dr. Aaron Lerner, Director IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)
(Mail POB 982 Kfar Sava)
Tel 972-9-7604719/Fax 972-3-7255730
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