Settler leaders paid more attention Monday to Housing and Construction Minister Meir Sheetrit's words against further withdrawals in the West Bank than they did to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's statement to the foreign press in Jerusalem that he was determined to stick with his realignment plan.
The Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip was so unimpressed by Olmert's statement that it did not even issue a formal response. It trusts that Olmert is still faithful to his plan, but it no longer thinks he has the power to execute it.
"I have no doubt that Olmert believes in realignment, but I do not believe the public and even the media would support it," council head Benzi Lieberman told The Jerusalem Post.
He is bolstered in that belief by the attack against realignment from Sheetrit, a member of Olmert's Kadima Party, as well as media commentators and polls showing a lack of approval for the plan.
Lieberman and other settler leaders said that all these things were evidence that public opinion had swung from a pro- to anti-withdrawal stance as a result of Hamas's attacks against Israel from Gaza over the last month.
The Israeli public had been influenced by recent events, "but Olmert has not learned anything from them. His attitude is irresponsible," said Lieberman.
The gap between the facts on the ground and Olmert's statements was so obvious that the prime minister was doing enough damage to the plan on his own, Lieberman said, and there was no need for the council to comment.
Tzvika Bar-Hai, head of the South Hebron Hills Regional Council, said that the issue was not Olmert's grasp of reality but rather his grasp on the coalition.
"Olmert has climbed out onto a limb and doesn't know how to get down," said Bar-Hai. "He campaigned on realignment and now he has to hold onto it or risk losing the Labor Party [his main coalition partner]."
Either way, settler leaders acknowledged that their 'wait-and-see' attitude, adopted after the right-wing parties lost the March election in favor of a left-leaning centrist bloc, had paid off.
In the aftermath of the elections, the council decided that it had time to regroup and work on a campaign against realignment that would be tailored to events as they unfolded.
Settler leaders said that the Kassam rockets that Palestinians launched from Gaza into Sderot and Ashkelon, as well as Hamas's kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, had helped them prove the point that further withdrawals would be dangerous.
Everyone in Israel now understood that if parts of Samaria were given to the Palestinians rockets would be launched against the cities of Kfar Saba and Ra'anana, said Binyamin Regional Council head Pinhas Wallerstein.
Bar-Hai said the council needed to campaign against realignment even so, as it remained a threat - just a less ominous one. "I am not panicked, but I'm not calm," he said.
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