Olmert shelves West Bank pull-out plan

In the aftermath of the war in Lebanon, Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister, has shelved plans for an Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, the central plank of an electoral platform that brought him to power earlier this year.

Israel Radio quoted ministers of Mr Olmert’s Kadima party as saying that the so-called West Bank realignment plan had not been cancelled but had been suspended in view of the need to direct resources to the north. However, the decision to sideline the controversial plan coincided with a backlash against unilateral measures that many blame for weakening Israel’s security.

Some analysts have said Israel’s decision to leave south Lebanon in 2000 without an agreement with the Lebanese government set the scene for a future conflict with Hizbollah.

Others say that the unilateral decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip a year ago, without prior agreement with the Palestinian Authority, led to an upsurge in violence directed at Israel in the form of primitive home-made rockets.

Mr Olmert suggested at the height of the Lebanon conflict that a successful outcome for Israel would enhance the prospects of his realignment plan, a comment that enraged a rightwing whose answer to Israel’s security needs is to hold on to the occupied territories.

The report of an official committee assessing the consequences of a West Bank withdrawal, leaked to the Ha’aretz newspaper this week, said one of the drawbacks would be the threat of rocket attacks from the territory that would require the army to remain behind even after Jewish settlers left. Mr Olmert presented his plan to relocate as many as 70,000 Jewish settlers from the West Bank, while consolidating Israel’s control in settlements it intended to retain, as one on which he would seek the agreement of the Palestinians.

However, in the absence of a negotiating track and, in particular, after the election of a Hamas government in the PA, it appeared likely that he would implement the plan unilaterally.

That option now also appears to have been frozen, leaving the Kadima-led government without a clear political platform beyond postwar reconstruction.

In one of a series of scandals unrelated to the war but which have resurfaced since the ceasefire, Mr Olmert on Friday lost one of his key ministerial allies in a cabinet where support for re-alignment was already faltering before the outbreak of the Lebanon conflict.

Haim Ramon, justice minister, said he would resign on Sunday to face an indictment for sexual misconduct. He has denied the accusation of a former government employee that he forcibly kissed her at a defence ministry reception on the day war broke out.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.