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(photo credit: GPO)
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert intends to keep the West Bank under IDF control even after all the settlements beyond the security fence are evacuated, Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Olmert revealed in weekend interviews that he intends to move the security fence, evacuate the settlers from the other side of it and make it a border. But Olmert declined to comment on an idea first raised by Kadima candidate Avi Dichter last week to unilaterally implement a "civilian disengagement" from the West Bank prior to handing over the territory to a responsible Palestinian leadership in a "military disengagement."
Ezra not only endorsed Dichter's idea on Sunday, he said that it was part of Olmert's thinking and Kadima's plans for after the March 28 election. He said that following the model of last summer's withdrawal from the northern West Bank it had become an integral part of the party's mindset.
"We want Hamas to accept the Road Map and the principles that the Palestinian Authority committed itself to, but because we want a Jewish-democratic state, if we don't advance bilaterally, we will want to converge the outlying settlements into the settlement blocs," Ezra said. "Convergence doesn't mean abandoning the land. All the land will continue to be controlled by the IDF."
Asked about Olmert's hesitation to speak about separating civilian and military disengagement, Ezra said he had not been told not to talk about the idea. Kadima's leaders and strategists met in Olmert's office on Wednesday afternoon after he completed the last of four interviews and decided that Kadima officials would speak freely in the press about the ideas Dichter raised, but not specify which settlements would remain.
"I think [this idea] is what Olmert thinks too and it's the best way to maintain a Jewish-democratic state," Ezra said. "It's a lot easier to say than do, but it's our general intention and we are pushing this line in the election. I'm in all the strategic forums and this is the approach that Kadima has adopted."
When asked about Dichter's idea, Olmert said that he had to be more careful than Dichter because he is a prime ministerial candidate, while Dichter may or may not be a minister. Spokesmen for Olmert and Dichter said that Olmert's and Dichter's plans did not contradict each other and that there was no dispute between the two.
But other top Kadima officials said there was not a consensus in the party about the idea. Sources in the Defense Ministry said that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was interested in pulling out settlers and soldiers from the West Bank simultaneously. Kadima candidate Shimon Peres continues to have faith in negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Another Kadima minister said he was confused at the rapid shift between different diplomatic plans.
Other Kadima officials said that the idea was not popular in the general public, pointing to a Dialogue poll published over weekend that found that just 37 percent support it, 49% oppose and 14% gave other answers.
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu responded that Olmert was misleading the public by assuming that he would form the government. He said that in the weekend interviews Olmert "removed his Purim mask."
"The president will ask the party that gets the most recommendations to form the government, not the party with the most seats," Netanyahu said.