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LIFELINE OR HANGING ROPE?

Olmert Government Takes Office Ready For Partition & Compromise On West Bank

Right Wing Critics Charge: Olmerts Policy Is Not Lifeline For Zionism But A Hanging Rope For Israel

Israel's New Cabinet

The Knesset has approved the new coalition government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert by a vote of 65-49 in the 120 Member parliament. In presenting his cabinet, Olmert declared that he would carry out a unilateral pullback to a new defense line on the West Bank, if there were no able Palestinian partner. The new line would include the settlements blocs and Israel would view it as a border until such time that the Palestinians were ready to halt the terrorism, recognize Israel and previous agreements with the Palestinians.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

It may be a tragedy that an Israeli government of partition and compromise takes office while a Hamas leadership of fanaticsm and violence governs the Palestinians.

The Knesset approval of Prime Minister Ehud Olmerts coalition government ushers in a new era in Israeli politics. It is different both in personality and program. In presenting his government, Olmert called his plan for a unilateral withdrawal on the West Bank a lifeline for Zionism. If there is no viable Palestinian peace partner that is what he is determined to start, reportedly in another two years. This pullback would be partial to a line including the settlement blocs and not to the 1967 line, as was the case in Gaza. His right wing critics call this a big mistake contending that Israel would be throwing away its bargaining chips. In the words of National Union MK Arieh Eldad it is no lifeline but a hanging rope. Such an evacution would seriously jeopardize Israels security. Although one coalition partner Shas has not committed to Olmerts convergence scheme, the party says it will decide when the time comes. So, Olmert can proceed and as he does he picks up a dividend in the international arena by displaying his readiness to give up territory. This at a time the Palestinians have elected fanatic Hamas, a terror organization whose charter calls for slaughtering Jews and never recognizing Israel. The recent elections in the Israeli and Palestinian camps have made this apparent to anyone who is willing to see. But what of the contention the Palestinians voted for Hamas mainly to punish the corrupt Fatah administration? Only time will tell if this holds water.

To date, Hamas leaders from Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on down still reject the international demands that they halt terrorism, recognize Israel and honor prior agreements. Meanwhile, Fatah the co-called moderates have stepped up their terror attacks. On the other hand, the evacuation policy initiated by Sharon has been adopted by Olmert and endorsed by a majority of Israelis. It is potentially the biggest Israeli majority in favor of a territorial compromise since the Six-Day. It may be a tragedy that more Palestinians than ever oppose a compromise with Israel - at least that's how they voted.

PM Ehud Olmert

The PM's Personality: Aged 61, Olmert who has been around politics for over thirty years, has turned out to be a real long shot. Unlike his recent predecessors such as Yitzhak Rabin, Bibi Netanyahu Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, Olmert lacks charisma and the popular support that enabled those leaders to sieze the premiership. In Olmerts case, the job fell into his lap due to the unexpected quirks involving Sharon. In the formation of the previous Likud government, Olmert was slated to be finance minister but Sharon was forced to give this plum post to Netanyahu and the foreign ministry to Silvan Shalom. Olmert, never the most popular personality in the Likud, was relegated to Trade and Industry. As a consolation prize, Sharon also threw in Vice Premier in his absence. At the time, no one dreamed that Sharon would fall ill paving the way for Olmerts rise to power. (This time the popular Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni has the post). After getting his big chance Olmert, a lawyer by training, has not stumbled. He navigated his way through the election campaign and formed what appears to be a solid coalition of 67 with United Torah Judaism also a possible partner. Olmert gives the impression of being cool and competent under pressure although he has yet to be tested by the Palestinian terrorism and the Iranian nuclear threat. As for Iran, IsraCast receives enquiries about how worried are Israelis about the Iranian threats. The public at large has great confidence in the IDF in general and the Israel Air Force in particular (See IsraCast report on 02/05/06).

Governments Stability: What are the chances the coalition will not break up before the next election in over four years? On Palestinian policy, the convergence plan is several years off at best. Olmerts May 23rd meeting with President Bush in Washington is likely to set the tone. The PM has stressed the need to coordinate with the U.S. and the international community. On this score, the Quartet is signaling that its about to get back into the game after the Israeli and Palestinian elections. It is well nigh impossible to forecast what will happen in two weeks in the Middle East, let alone two years. Olmert is expected to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after he flies back from the U.S. Some Laborites, such as Shimon Peres may urge concessions to Abbas to bolster his standing vis-?-vis Hamas but this is unlikely to threaten the coalition. Labor will be able to fall back on Olmerts commitment to a future West Bank withdrawal. For the immediate future, the ultra-orthodox Shas appears happy to be back in the government.

Olmert has taken the middle road and that is apparently where most Israelis want to be at this juncture - he rejects the Land Of Israel ideology from the right and the New Middle East notion of the left.

Domestic Policy: After former Finance Minister Bibi Netanyahus slashing of welfare payments, the new Olmert cabinet is going to restore some $1 billion. This has been worked out in negotiations with the coalition partners. Therefore, this years and next years budget should not pose a threat. Olmert talks about a sound economic policy but with more compassion for the poor. A bullish stock market likes what it hears recording new highs. So, barring unforeseen circumstances, prospects look fairly good for the short and medium term.

David Essing

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