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Days after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared his West Bank realignment plan off the table, Seniors' Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan said Monday that a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank was still in Israel's best interests.
Olmert has talked in recent days about restarting negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on implementing the road map. Olmert and other ministers have abandoned talk of withdrawing unilaterally due to the rocket attacks that followed Israel's unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
But Eitan told The Jerusalem Post in an interview at his office in the Knesset that he supported unilaterally drawing a border that would keep settlement blocs, strategic sites and empty deserts in Israel. He said the IDF should remain in the West Bank after the settlers are evacuated.
"We need to look 10 years ahead," the 79-year-old Eitan said. "We have no chance to live in peace with the Palestinians in the near future. We can't expel them. We can't kill all of them. So what's left is separation."
Eitan, who helped convince former prime minister Ariel Sharon to disengage from Gaza, said it was still the right move, despite its negative ramifications. He said the rockets fired from Gaza and Lebanon were "a technical matter that needs to be overcome in one way or another."
According to Eitan, the security fence should continue to be built but it need not be the border between Israel and a Palestinian state. He said Israel should already begin evacuating settlers on the other side of the border who would be interested in moving to settlement blocs.
"There are people there [in the West Bank] who understand that they can't stay there forever," Eitan said. "I can have influence, little by little, until people realize that if we don't withdraw, we won't be able to stay anywhere in Judea and Samaria."
Eitan, who is a member of the security cabinet, said that Israel should take defensive measures to prepare for an attack from Iran like deploying anti-missile missiles and building shelters, but he said Israel cannot go on the offensive to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear capability without American approval.
"Israel on the Iranian issue doesn't have diplomatic freedom to act independently," Eitan said. "Israel can't act with violent force against Iran because US forces are there in Iraq. We can't do anything without American approval, even if it's a matter of life and death."
Eitan said the war in Lebanon woke up the world to the Iranian threat and resulted in the building of an international force in Lebanon that he believes would make it impossible for Hizbullah to attack Israel.
"It was fortunate for Israel that the war broke out," Eitan said. "Now if Iran attacks us, the entire world would back our response. This wasn't true before, but it is now thanks to the war."