(photo credit: AP [file])
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday blamed government bureaucracy and the fact that many Gaza Strip settlers believed they would still return to their former homes for the difficulties in resettling the evacuees.
"The waiting and the hope is perhaps one of the things that characterizes the entire process from then until now, including at this very moment," Olmert told the State Commission of Inquiry into the Handling by the Authorized Authorities of the Evacuees from Gush Katif and Northern Samaria.
"This community is motivated by deep feelings. When a minister comes along and says they should return to their former homes [a reference to Minister-without-Portfolio Moshe Yaalon's call for the return of the residents to their evacuated homes in the settlement of Homesh], they take this as an indication of what they can expect. So, despite the fact that 80 percent of the evacuees have plots to build their permanent homes, they are not building. What is delaying them is the hope that maybe things will change that will enable them to change the current reality."
He also blamed the bureaucracy and the narrow interests of different ministries in blocking what he believed were good solutions to the resettlement of the evacuees. One of the examples he gave was in the eastern Lachish area which had "an enormous settlement potential and a sense of Zionist fulfillment. [But] so what if the prime minister thinks it's great? So what if a substantial portion of the evacuees think they want to live there? There is a Ministry of the Environment and it knows that this is a 'biospheric area' - God knows what that is - and, on the other hand, there is a firing zone for an IDF unit and [they say] 'what, they won't let us train?'
"It's much easier to give an order to the IDF but that requires discussions and procedures and civil servants, and then the superiors of the civil servants, and then their superiors. So then you obtain a decision in the ministerial committee - but you first have to find an alternative firing range. And we haven't even gotten to the Planning and Building Committee. I've been saying since my first day as mayor of Jerusalem that these committees are the bottleneck of the country."
Olmert defended the government's decision to allow communities that lived together in the Gaza Strip to move en masse to new communities inside the Green Line. However, he agreed that this made the resettlement process more difficult than treating the settlers as individuals and letting them find their own solutions.
"I absolutely believe that this was the right decision for anyone who did not want to take those people and throw them to the winds," he told the committee.
Olmert also took advantage of the hearing to defend the government's decision to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip and to conduct the withdrawal when it did, in August 2005.
"It led to one of the greatest substantive and strategic achievements for the future of the country," he said. "It led President Bush, out of consent and discussion, to write the famous letter in which for the first time in the 40 years since the territories began to be administered and ruled by the state, [it was stated] that the solution to the Palestinian refugee problem will be found in the Palestinian state and not in Israel.
"Furthermore, he said for the first time that the border between us and the Palestinians in a final agreement will not necessarily be the Green Line or the 1967 borders and that the sides will not be able to ignore the changes that have taken place. This wasn't just words, it was included in an official letter that was brought before the two houses of Congress and won a decisive majority."
He also defended the government's right to decide to evacuate the Gaza Strip even though it was the government that had encouraged Jewish settlement in the area in preceding years.
"In diplomatic life, a government may, at a given moment, come to a conclusion that is vital and important and if it receives political and parliamentary backing, it may change its mind. I can't expect a resident of Kissufim or Ganei Tal who is worried about his home to see things the way the government does, in the same way that a soldier can't see things from the perspective of a government."
Olmert added that the state may have no choice in the future but to carry out a unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank if the world should turn its back on the idea of two states for two people.
"Thus," he said, "we may have to deal with the reality of withdrawal, whether in the framework of an agreement or by our own initiative, sooner than many among us imagine."