Netanyahu: Operation changes nothing

Says that Olmert still plans to withdraw from "95% of the West Bank."

olmert 298 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
olmert 298 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
"One successful operation does not change the fact that [Acting Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert is planning to give up 95% of the West Bank," Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu said after a security consultation he convened on Wednesday morning in the wake of Tuesday's successful Jericho operation. According to Netanyahu, who met, among others, with former defense minister Moshe Arens, Lt.-Gen. (res.) Dan Shomrno and Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ya'akov Amidror, "Olmert's strategic plan is wrong and dangerous, and this is the issue the Israeli public will vote on. Every voter should ask himself whether is he willing to support such a significant withdrawal." Despite Netanyahu's confidence, Likud sources expressed concern that the operation would help Kadima and prevent a further slide in the polls. For Olmert - a prime ministerial candidate with a shortage of military experience - the timing of Tuesday's raid two weeks before the March 28 election could not have been better. Olmert denied that political considerations were involved in his decisionmaking. His aides insisted that the timing of the operation was just good luck, and they called politicians who thought otherwise "sick in the head." "I did not expedite the actions of the IDF," Olmert said in an interview with the Russian-language newspaper Vesty. Olmert's associates said that no comparison could be made to Menachem Begin's attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor prior to the 1981 election, because the timing of Tuesday's events were dictated by everyone but Israel. "The timing was decided by the British and American jailers when they decided unilaterally to break the agreement by leaving the prison and by the Palestinian Authority when it said it would free the killers," an Olmert adviser said. "Anyone who suggests otherwise lacks national responsibility and is stooping to the lowest and most pitiful politics." The only Israeli politician who said in front of the cameras that the move was politically premeditated was United Arab List MK Ahmed Tibi, who said Olmert was trying to help himself in the polls at the expense of an infringement on the PA. "Olmert is trying to be Sharon and prove that he is more of a security man than he really is at the expense of doing what is right," he said. Tibi said he spoke with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who passed a message to the US administration and to Olmert to stop the attack on the Jericho prison, and in exchange he absolutely committed to keep Saadat in prison. Tibi expressed suspicion that the operation was "to improve Kadima's rating in the polls ahead of the elections." Likud MK Uzi Landau released a statement saying that the timing of the raid could not have been coincidental: "I am concerned that for Kadima this was just another spin tactic intended as a solution for the party's fall in the polls." Other politicians from across the political spectrum hinted all day at what Tibi and Landau said, but after the raid proved successful praised the maneuver, while noting Olmert's other faults. National Union-National Religious Party MK Arye Eldad said Olmert should have ordered the IDF to kill former tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi's murderers, Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On said Olmert should have acted via diplomatic channels and Likud MKs said that despite the raid, Olmert was still soft on terror. "Hamas received the strength it displayed in its decision to free Ze'evi's murderers from Olmert's weakness," Landau said. "A stronger policy could have prevented Tuesday's events from being necessary." Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Yuval Steinitz praised "Olmert's right hand" for carrying out the raid, while slamming "his left hand" for continuing to provide funding and territorial concessions to Hamas. Olmert's challengers for the premiership, Binyamin Netanyahu and Amir Peretz, issued statements praising the raid, but Netanyahu made a point of extolling the IDF but not the government. "It's a proper step that proves the principle that there is no need to give a prize to terror," he said. Peretz was quick to praise the army and government, and support Olmert's strategy in Jericho. "Labor, under my leadership, serves as a full partner in the fight against terror and protection of Israeli citizens," said Peretz. "This operation had an important message - murderers and terrorists cannot roam free. They must pay the full price for their murderous actions." Several Labor Party officials, who sit on the special "security team" formed by Peretz said the chairman should not have been so quick to praise his rival. "We, the Labor candidates, have talked about appearing stronger on defense issues in the public eye," said one candidate. "However, today may have been too strong of an endorsement of Olmert." Both Israel Beiteinu and the National Union-NRP spoke in favor of the raid. "I bless Israel for taking this step. It is a correct and righteous action," Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman told reporters in Tel Aviv. He said he had long urged the government not to leave the men in PA hands. Israel had no choice but to go into the jail, he said, in reaction to statements by the PA that it planned to release the men. Had the PA freed Ze'evi's assassins, he said, it would have broken agreements to the contrary that it had made with the US and the UK. "It shows what we can expect from them in the future," he said. NU-NRP leader Benny Elon said he felt that with the raid, Israel regains some of the honor it lost following the assassination. "I can only hope that from the strength of his action we will become the country we once were," he said.