Israel's public debate is known for its ferocity and general nastiness, but very rarely is the prime minister called a bald-faced liar. The fact that both the Likud and Labor called Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert just that after he gave his first televised interview as acting premier Tuesday night is therefore significant.
In that interview, as during the tour he conducted earlier that day along the route of the security fence around Jerusalem, Olmert pledged that if he forms the next government, he will establish Israel's permanent borders. Olmert said those borders will maintain Ma'aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion under Israeli sovereignty. A unified Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley will also remain under Israeli control, he promised.
Unfortunately, when Olmert's statements from Tuesday are compared to his actions on the ground, it becomes clear that the Likud's and Labor's invectives were accurate. On the ground, the government's policies are cutting both Gush Etzion and Ma'aleh Adumim off from Jerusalem and bringing about the partition of Jerusalem. As well, there is no evidence that the government is working to preserve Israeli control over the Jordan Valley – to the contrary.
Additionally, the Olmert government has failed completely to bring about the Palestinians' isolation in the wake of Hamas's electoral victory. It is not only that the government transferred tax revenues to the PA or that Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited Hamas leaders for an official visit to Moscow. The government's incompetence in dealing with the Hamas challenge was made abundantly clear by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's remarks at her joint press conference with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday.
Tuesday Olmert was expected to make a final decision regarding the route of the security fence around the Palestinian village Jaba, which is located next to Gush Etzion. The planned route places Jaba outside the fence. To keep Jaba out of the fence's boundaries, it will be necessary to move Highway 367, which connects Gush Etzion to the center of the country, from its present location south of Jaba, to a new location north of the village. The project, which will cost Israeli taxpayers NIS 100 million, will locate the new road on a narrow ridge directly below Jaba and thus place every vehicle traveling on it within range of terrorist snipers. The new route will be surrounded on all sides by Hamas-controlled villages – so the only link between Gush Etzion and the center of the country will be all but impossible to defend. Gush Etzion residents, as well as the IDF and the Defense Ministry support changing the route of the fence and leaving the highway where it is. Olmert deferred deciding the issue.
When Olmert says that he will maintain Gush Etzion, it is not at all clear how he intends to do so. The current route of the security fence excludes its three eastern communities – Nokdim, Tekoa and Karmei Tzur.
As well, while last month the government ordered hundreds of IDF troops and policemen to destroy an unauthorized home at Neveh Daniel North, as well as a crate and an antenna on a hill two kilometers north of the small settlement, it refuses to enforce its own orders calling for the demolition of hundreds of illegal Palestinian structures.
Hundreds of such illegal structures have been built along Highway 60, which connects Gush Etzion to Jerusalem. The Palestinians have also seized thousands of dunams of state lands all around Gush Etzion. In both cases, the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria has issued orders to destroy the structures and take back the lands, but it has not moved to implement any of those orders.
Neveh Daniel North and the hilltop where the antenna and crate were destroyed, are located directly above Highway 60 and the road that connects the towns of Tzur Hadassah and Betar Illit to Jerusalem. If the government wanted to guarantee Gush Etzion's integration with Israel, it would be allowing more Jews to live in Neveh Daniel North and enable Jews to settle on the unpopulated hilltop where the antenna and crate were located.
For its part, the Palestinian Authority is directing the seizure of government lands around Gush Etzion in order to link the villages of Husan and Nahalin to one another and link both to Bethlehem. If the Palestinians are successful – and given the Civil Administration's refusal to enforce the law against the Palestinians, there is no reason to believe they will fail – the road from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion will be surrounded on all sides by hostile villages under Hamas control. So if Olmert was truly committed to preserving Gush Etzion, he would be implementing policies directly opposed to the ones he is advancing today.
The same is the case for Ma'aleh Adumim. Today, there are two obstacles blocking the linkage of Ma'aleh Adumim and Jerusalem: The government's refusal to permit a neighborhood to be built in the area known as E-1; and Olmert's support for a plan that would serve to connect the Arab neighborhoods of Isawiya and A-Tur. If the neighborhoods are allowed to link up, their expanded boundaries will prevent the connection of Jerusalem to the Judean Desert and expose the road between Mount Scopus and Ma'aleh Adumim to the threat of rifle attacks from the Hamas/Palestinian Authority-controlled territories.
Three weeks ago, Haaretz's weekend magazine published an article regarding the plan to expand the two neighborhoods. The article accused Aviatar Cohen, who runs the Nature Reserves Authority's Jerusalem District, of working to prevent their expansion for "political" reasons.
In accordance with a decision by then interior minister Natan Sharansky from 2000, the Nature Reserve Authority is building a national park called "Ancient Landscapes Park" in the area where the Arabs wish to link Isawiya and A-Tur. According to sources in the Nature Reserves Authority and the Jerusalem Municipality, the article led to Cohen being removed from his office and forced to work from the authority's offices Ein Hemed. As well, the plan to build the national park is being revisited.
One of the major players behind the initiative to expand Isawiya and A-Tur is former Israeli and New York attorney David Fox. Fox is known to be friendly with both former prime minister Ehud Barak and Olmert. Fox developed the plans to link Isawiya and A-Tur in conjunction with the radical leftist planning organization Bimkom. Bimkom, which is supported by the New Israel Fund, has been prominent in attempts to expand the village of Bil'in near Ramallah amid violent clashes between Palestinians and their leftist supporters and IDF and police forces. It has also been active in attempting to foil development plans for the abandoned village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem.
During his tenure as Jerusalem mayor, Olmert opposed the expansion of Isawiya toward A-Tur and even destroyed 18 illegal structures in Isawiya. But, as deputy prime minister, Olmert wrote Fox a letter expressing his support for the building plans.
As to Jerusalem itself, like Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu has noted in recent weeks, the fence that Olmert has pledged to complete within six months will endanger both the city and vehicles traveling on Highway 1 between Tel Aviv and the capital. This is the case because Olmert's fence relinquishes Israeli control over the village of Beit Iksa.
The transfer of Beit Iksa to Hamas/Palestinian Authority control will place residents of the adjacent Ramot neighborhood and the hundreds of thousands of vehicles that travel daily on Highway 1 within the rifle range of terrorists. Even more disturbingly, according to knowledgeable, well-placed sources, senior members of Olmert's Kadima Party have been conducting discussions for over a year with Palestinian officials regar
ding the partition of Jerusalem. According to these sources, the two sides have agreed that all Arab neighborhoods in the capital will be transferred to Palestinian control.
As to the Jordan Valley, while Kadima's platform makes no pledge to preserve Israeli control over the area, Tuesday Olmert promised to maintain "control of Israel's eastern border." As we learned in Israel's capitulation regarding the Philadepli Corridor and the Rafah Terminal that connect Gaza to Egypt, in the wake of the withdrawal from Gaza, there is no reason to believe that Olmert is serious. The fact that over the past few years, right under our noses, the government has built a border passage between the Jordan Valley and the Beit Shean Valley, tells us all we need to know about the value of Olmert's pledge to retain Israeli control of our eastern border.
AN ANALYSIS of Olmert's actual policies shows that far from following a hard-nosed strategy, Kadima is implementing Yossi Beilin's agreement with Mahmoud Abbas from 1995. According to that unofficial agreement – which then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin rejected because it did not address Israel's security needs even in an era of peace – in exchange for peace, Israel was supposed to transfer 95 percent of Judea and Samaria to Palestinian control, partition Jerusalem and agree to security arrangements on the Jordan Valley that would pave the way for the area's eventual transfer to Palestinian control.
The irony is that at least Beilin's unofficial agreement was supposed to bring Israel peace. Today, Olmert and his associates seek to implement Beilin's plan as Hamas takes control of the PA, so ensuring that an Israeli withdrawal will not be accompanied by any guarantee – even a mendacious one – of Israel's future security in the framework of a peace treaty. That is, the Olmert government's policies are to the left of Beilin's.
The Olmert government's desire to abandon Judea and Samaria makes the question of Hamas's international standing a pivotal one. Once Hamas gains legitimacy, Israel will not have international support for military actions aimed at defending what will remain of the country from Palestinian aggression. Unfortunately, the government's bid to isolate Hamas/Palestinian Authority in the wake of the Palestinian elections last month has been a total failure. This fact was made clear not only by Russia's decision to recognize Hamas, but also by Rice's statements during her joint press conference with Livni.
During their joint appearance, Rice did not once use the term "terrorist organization" to describe Hamas. Indeed, the only thing about Hamas that seemed to bother Rice was the fact that Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist. From this it becomes clear that a vague declaration by Hamas which acknowledges – for now – the fact of Israel's existence, will likely be deemed sufficient for Hamastan to be welcomed as the newest member of the US-led international community.
Olmert's current policies indicate that if he forms the next government, he and his cohorts in Kadima will lead Israel into a national and military abyss. The fact that he is basing his campaign on denying his actual policies is more than sufficient reason for Israeli voters to look elsewhere for their next prime minister. The fact that his actual policies endanger the long-term survival of Israel makes defeating Olmert and Kadima a national imperative.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.