Analysis: Selling realignment while Sderot reels

Olmert's advisers argue that security is not the only measure of realignment's success.

sderot center 88.298 (photo credit: Daniel Kennemer)
sderot center 88.298
(photo credit: Daniel Kennemer)
When Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met Tory leader David Cameron in London last week, Cameron asked a question that - in light of everything happening in Sderot and Gaza - is heavy on the minds of many Israelis: How will Israel be able to prevent similar Kassam attacks from the West Bank after realignment? According to reports on that meeting, Olmert didn't answer directly. Rather, he admitted that the realignment plan was not ideal, but that considering the overall situation it was the most realistic option available. Olmert said it was unlikely the Palestinians would accept the plan, but that there was a chance the "intensity" of the conflict would decline following a withdrawal from most of the West Bank. Ninety-five percent of the Palestinian population, he told Cameron, would no longer be under Israeli control. Regarding Jerusalem, Olmert said Israel would not make any compromises regarding its sovereignty over the Temple Mount, but that this would not be the case regarding some of the east Jerusalem neighborhoods. Realignment, he told Cameron, was born of a "need to separate" and to "reduce the friction." These two needs - separation and reducing friction - should be kept in mind when evaluating what lessons the Prime Minister's Office may be drawing from the recent events in Sderot and Gaza, and what impact these will have on the still-to-be-drafted realignment plan. Olmert, his top aides say, has articulated a general "vision" regarding realignment, but the nitty-gritty details have not yet been worked out, such as which settlements will be included in the settlement blocs. There are other major points still to be decided. For instance, no decision has yet been taken regarding whether the IDF will retain a presence in the West Bank after the plan is implemented and some 60,000 to 70,000 settlers are evacuated. Senior Israeli officials say there are a number of options available, but that the prime minister is nowhere near making a decision. Which is why it is important to watch what is happening in Sderot. The realignment plan is still very much a work in progress - intensive staff work on the plan hasn't even begun - and the plan's final form could very well be impacted by how things go now in the southern city. For instance, if Olmert's initial idea was to withdraw the IDF from all the areas Israel would vacate in the West Bank, except for leaving a presence along the Jordan River, than the ceaseless pounding of Sderot, and the difficulty Israel is having dealing with it exclusively through the air, may very well have a real impact on the ultimate decision about where the army should redeploy. Some of Olmert's political critics are aghast that at a time when Gaza is in chaos, Sderot is under fire, and there is a real danger of a major military escalation, Olmert is still peddling a plan that sounds as if he is simply transferring the Gaza model of disengagement to the West Bank; a transfer that that takes for granted that disengagement from Gaza was a resounding success. Ask those around Olmert whether they feel disengagement was a success and they will say it's important how one defines success. If the only parameter for judging success is security, then it would be tough to call disengagement a success, considering all that Sderot residents are going through. But Olmert's advisers argue that security is not the only measure of success. They say that disengagement, and therefore the future realignment, needs to be judged by different parameters: whether they will improve Israel's demographic situation; whether they further the vision of a two-state solution; whether they improve Israel's international standing; whether they improve Israel's strategic relationship with the US; whether they reduce friction and help Israel separate from the Palestinians. It is precisely because Olmert believes there are so many different parameters involved when judging disengagement that he feels comfortable trying to sell an additional withdrawal at this time - even while the last disengagement is being accompanied, not by the drums and fifes of good Palestinians governance, but rather by the thuds of falling Kassam rockets.