Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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19 Iyar 5766 - May 17, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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US to Olmert: Don't Schnorr

by M. Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

As Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert prepared to go to America to meet with senior US officials and to address the US Congress, the US sent him a clear message: Do not ask for any money at this time.

According to the Jerusalem Post, this message was conveyed to Olmert by Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in a meeting held in Jerusalem on Sunday.

Earlier, in an apparent attempt to lower expectations for the visit, the US announced that President George Bush will not discuss the details of the convergence plan when he meets Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but would allow him to outline his "vision."

"There will be no maps and there will be no exchange of letters," National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told a group of Jewish leaders Monday, according to sources who were at the meeting to help prepare for the upcoming trip.

Israeli officials said that they had not planned to discuss any requests for funds.

There was an understanding that the US would provide some $2 billion as a result of the Disengagement from the Gaza Strip area last summer. That was later reduced to $1.2 billion, with the money allocated only for the development of the Negev and the Galilee. After the US was struck by major hurricanes on its Gulf Coast last fall, this money was quietly put on hold.

The estimate most commonly given for the cost of Olmert's Convergence Plan is $10 billion. However this should be regarded as a lowball estimate since it assumes only av average $100,000 per family for the estimated 10,000 families involved. In the case of the Disengagement from Gush Katif the costs as detailed publicly came to an average of more than $200,000 per family. If so, that would put the price tag for Convergence at $20 billion. That is a full 20 percent of Israel's yearly GDP and a very large amount for it to fund on its own.

The US is in a strained situation as far as its government expenses are concerned, with very large budget deficits. It is not clear how able it will be to foot such a large bill, even if it was inclined to do so.

The US was not enthusiastic about Sharon's Disengagement Plan, but it went along. It remains unconvinced by Olmert's Convergence Plan, but for the moment is not opposing it.

It is the unilateral aspect of the approach that most traditional people of the Israeli Left find unsettling. Their dream was always to end the Israeli presence in the areas of Palestinian settlement and to conclude a binding and final agreement with the Palestinians. The Sharon-Olmert approach takes steps towards the first of these goals but at the expense of abandoning the second.

Political analysts have been warning that it will not be easy to muster a Knesset majority for the plan. Much of the proposal has not been spelled out, and different possibilities suggested could spell trouble for the plan.

For example, 10,000 families will need to be moved and resettled. It was no easy matter to find land to build housing for the 1,500 Gush Katif families. This will be harder by at least eight times. Some of the suggestions involve confiscating Arab land that is closer to existing Jewish communities, but doing so would certainly alienate the Leftist Meretz parties and the Arab MKs.

Labor still remains committed to a negotiated settlement, and the coalition guidelines that it signed stipulate that before any unilateral move (such as advocated by Olmert) the government will make every effort to reach an agreement with the other side. This preserves Labor policy of pursuing an agreement while exacting only a vague commitment to agree to unilateral moves — but only if no agreement is possible with the other side. When no agreement is possible is something that will have to be judged by the political parties, and they may well reach differing conclusions.

Labor leader Amir Peretz certainly still hopes to be prime minister of Israel some day. It has no doubt occurred to him that Olmert will be a much weaker opponent in any future election if the Convergence Plan that he touts so strongly is a resounding failure.


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