US may support Kadima withdrawal plan

Avi Dichter names 10 settlements slated for evacuation, if Kadima wins.

gush etzion map 298 (photo credit: )
gush etzion map 298
(photo credit: )
Israel will seek to complete a unilateral disengagement from the West Bank within four years if Kadima wins this month's election, former Shin Bet (Israel Security agency) chief and Kadima Knesset candidate Avi Dichter told reporters Sunday. Coordination for the withdrawal would begin soon after the elections, he said. "The road map is obsolete without two sides" to carry it out, Dichter told The Jerusalem Post before the press conference. He added that under any permutation of the next withdrawal, Israel would maintain a military presence in the West Bank. In so doing, Dichter said, Israel would seek to establish the permanent borders of the state. Whether non-negotiated borders would be accepted by the international community as final boundaries remains doubtful. According to US Embassy spokesman Stewart Tuttle, the US position remains that "all final-status issues should be agreed to between the parties." However, in private American officials have said that the US would not oppose Israeli decisions to cede territory that it no longer felt was strategically necessary to control. But the US, those officials said, was not prepared to recognize the new frontiers as final international borders, but rather as the starting point for final-status negotiations. But assuming that Kadima goes on to win the elections, a solid image has emerged of what Israel will look like for the foreseeable future. According to Dichter, a Kadima-led government would seek to retain control over Kiryat Arba, the Jewish areas of Hebron, the Ofra bloc, and the Jordan Valley in addition to the main settlement blocs. The exact lines, he said, would be drawn by the government in consultation with coalition partners and settler leaders, but without input from the Palestinian side. The specific settlements he mentioned would be evacuated were Eilon Moreh, Yitzhar, Itamar, Shiloh, Psagot, Tekoa, Nokdim, Pnei Hever, Ma'on and Otniel. "We will sit together with the settlers so there won't be any surprises," Dichter said. "They were sent [to the West Bank] to represent the state and they can have an impact [on the map]." Moreover, in stark contrast to the Gaza disengagement, in which Israel completely withdrew both civilians and all IDF personnel and installations, the next disengagement will be a civilian-only affair, Dichter said. "The land will stay in IDF hands after the civilian withdrawal," he said. "We don't know yet when the land would be transferred to them because it takes two hands to clap." For some time, it has appeared clear that large settlement blocs of Ariel, Ma'aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion will remain part of Israel. But following the Hamas victory, Kadima officials are moving toward retaining more territory than was previously understood to be in a long-term plan. While US President George W. Bush's letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon obviously "winked" at a final-status agreement that would entail Israeli control over the large settlement blocs, the officials said, the blocs included in that agreement were not defined, nor was the territory Israel would be asked to cede to the Palestinian Authority as compensation. While Sharon preferred to evacuate Gaza completely to absolve Israel from all responsibility for its 1.3 million inhabitants, the new reality of a Hamas-led PA with ties to Iran has made such a scenario a security risk in the West Bank, security experts say. In retaining the Jordan Valley and maintaining a military presence in the West Bank, Israel is seeking to offset that threat, said Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center. "Israel's policy is going to be to make the Palestinians understand that there are consequences, both territorial and economic, to electing an organization committed to the destruction of Israel," he said. But in Kadima's disengagement plans, the party is not just defining the territorial holdings of Israel and the PA. In building the security fence and 28 checkpoints along its perimeter, as well as a road system for Palestinians which will bypass Jewish settlements, a picture of the long-term relationship between Israelis and Palestinians is emerging. If indeed Israel seeks to retain settlements that do not fall within the security fence, that picture will be defined among four groups: Israelis living within the fence, Israelis living outside the fence, Palestinians living in the West Bank and Palestinians living in Gaza. While Israelis living in the West Bank would have access to civilian Israel, the remaining interactions between the groups would be severely limited, with Palestinians, both in the West Bank and Gaza, having extremely limited movement beyond their respective territories. "It's a real divorce," Halevi said, adding that if such a state lasted long enough it would become the final-status arrangement. "Anything that lasts another 20 years will take on a life of its own. If the Middle East changes so drastically that it will accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state, then Israel will renegotiate. But that's looking at a virtually messianic scenario," he said.