Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, predicted to win the Israeli election on March 27th, said in an interview Thursday that any parties who wish to join a coalition government with him will have to agree to his unilateral plan to take 20% of the Palestinian West Bank and surround the rest with a Wall.
The plan, which is already being put into effect in various parts of the West Bank with accelerated Wall construction and displacement of Palestinian populations, has been termed ‘unilateral withdrawal’ by Israeli leaders. But Palestinians argue that the term ‘withdrawal’ is misleading, as Olmert’s plan calls simply for a shifting of illegal Israeli settlers from one part of the West Bank to another part, not a withdrawal.
The Occupied Territories, also known as the West Bank and Gaza Strip, occupied by Israel since 1967, are home to 5 million Palestinians, many of whom were displaced from what is now Israel in 1948 and again in 1967.
Olmert, the acting prime minister in Israel, inherited the Kadima party leadership after party founder Ariel Sharon suffered a massive stroke in January that left him comatose.
A central part of Olmert’s platform is drawing Israel’s final borders within four years, if necessary through unilateral actions in the Palestinian West Bank.
Olmert has said Israel’s West Bank separation barrier, built deep within Palestinian territory and isolating thousands of Palestinians (including 200,000 Jerusalem residents) from the rest of Palestine, will serve as the basis of the border. He wants to consolidate the West Bank settlers into large settlement ‘blocs’ that will essentially annex over 20% of the Palestinian West Bank. Although the United Nations and the International Court of Justice have declared Israeli expansion onto occupied Palestinian land illegal under international law, Israeli authorities have ignored that directive, and have transferred over 450,000 Israeli citizens onto Palestinian land.
"I want to emphasize, so that no one doubts it: I intend to implement this plan. Anyone who is not interested in seeing this plan implemented — will not be in my coalition. I do not intend to compromise on the details of the plan. This is the plan and there is no other," Olmert told Yediot News in Israel.
The plan falls well short of Palestinian visions for their future state. The Palestinians want all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip for a future state with east Jerusalem as the capital.
Shimon Peres, who is running as a Kadima candidate, said the party would have preferred to reach a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, but will not negotiate with the Palestinian people’s choice, the Hamas party, democratically elected in uncontested elections in January. The Hamas movement, known mainly for its armed wing that carried out 60 attacks in Israel since 2000, has remained committed to a truce with Israel made last February, despite the fact that Israeli forces have violated the truce hundreds of times, killing 180 Palestinians in the last year alone.
"Unilateralism is not our ideology or our first priority," Peres told reporters, but added that "Hamas is not a partner for peace."
Olmert has indicated he will hand over parts of Jerusalem to Palestine under a final peace deal. Jerusalem, declared an ‘international zone’ in the United Nations resolution that created the state of Israel in 1947, was taken over by Israel forces in 1967 and the existing Palestinian population of the city have been pushed eastward since then to make room for ‘Jewish-only’ settlements.
In an interview, Kadima candidate Otniel Schneller, former head of a settler group involved in illegally seizing land from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, stressed that Israel will never give back any part of the Old City of Jerusalem to Palestinians, despite the fact that many Palestinians have homes and businesses there that have been in their families for thousands of years.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war, annexing the Arab neighborhoods and declaring the entire city its capital. The city’s fate has been one of the greatest obstacles to a peace deal.
The latest polls indicate that Kadima will easily win Tuesday’s election, but not command enough seats in the 120-member parliament to rule the government without forming a coalition party.