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Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert received a barrage of criticism from both right and left Wednesday morning, as well as from within his own Kadima Party for comments he made Tuesday night in which he suggested the possibility of further withdrawals.
According to Army Radio, Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima)said he would work against such a plan, while his Kadima colleague, former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter expressed outright rejection of further withdrawals.
Ministers from both Labor and Likud blasted Olmert's comments. Yitzhak Herzog of Labor called Olmert's speech a "failed audition" and added that it sounded as if Olmert was repeating the platforms of other parties.
Olmert began painting in broad strokes on Tuesday where he thinks Israel's final border should eventually run, saying that the Jordan Valley, Gush Etzion, Ma'aleh Adumim and Ariel settlement blocs will remain a part of Israel.
Olmert strayed very little from the parameters set by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who also envisioned Israel holding on to these areas in any final agreement with the Palestinians.
"We will separate from the majority of the Palestinian population that lives in Judea and Samaria, and it will obligate us to leave territories where Israel is today," Olmert said in a Channel 2 interview. "We will move into central settlement blocks."
Olmert also said Israel would retain "united Jerusalem." Regarding the Jordan Valley, Olmert said that Israel couldn't give up on its eastern boundary.
When pressed to spell out details of the settlement blocs, Olmert said there was no reason at this time to "understand where every point would run. We are going toward separation from the Palestinians, toward establishing a permanent border for Israel."
He said that the border he had in mind would not be the same as Israel's border today. He gave no indication of when or how those Jews not in the settlement blocks, estimated by Peace Now to be some 60,000 people, would be removed.
In being sparse about the details of the settlement blocs, Olmert was also following Sharon's lead. Sharon spoke repeatedly about Israel holding on to the major settlement blocs, without ever publicly defining what settlements would eventually be part of those blocs.
Sharon also said frequently in the past that the country's eastern frontiers would not look the same as they do today. At his press conference in November announcing his split from Likud, Sharon said, "When we get to the last stage of the road map - when we get to the permanent borders of the state of Israel - one can assume that some of the settlements won't be able to remain there."
Olmert, like Sharon, pledged his allegiance to the road map, and would not say whether he envisioned further unilateral withdrawals.
Tuesday night's interview was Olmert's first since he took over as acting prime minister on January 4, and is part of a carefully orchestrated effort by his campaign team to increasingly expose him to the public in his new role.
Earlier in the day, during a tour of the security barrier in the Jerusalem area, Olmert also mentioned the settlement blocs. "Even though the fence is a security one, my directive to those who are building it is that no matter what is done, it must be taken into consideration that Gush Etzion and Ma'ale Adumim will remain an integral part of the state of Israel in any future developments."
Olmert said that the fence was a security barrier, and its objective was to prevent terrorism. "I am especially worried about the Jerusalem envelope, and it is on the top of the agenda, before everything else," He said.
Olmert said that this year the government would make "great efforts" to finish the fence as quickly as possible. He said that he was particularly concerned about the situation in Jerusalem, and that it was on top of the national agenda."
Olmert was accompanied on the tour by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra, Minister without Portfolio Tzahi Hanegbi, and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz.