Following the confrontations Monday in which Kadima members questioned the
realignment plan, Justice Minister Haim Ramon said that the plan to unilaterally withdraw from West Bank territories is more relevant now than ever, “and whoever thinks otherwise is mistaken.”
On Monday Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) dared to question the plan publicly, just hours after Olmert declared his intentions to implement it as he promised on the campaign trail.
According to Ramon, “The realignment and the disengagement were borne out of the understanding that Israel has no partner on the other side. The events of the past few days just prove this. Since Israel can’t be held hostage by Hamas and Qassam rockets, it must act according to its interests.”
Minister Sheetrit was the first of Kadima’s lawmakers to publicly contest the realignment plan. “Considering what is happening in Gaza,” the minister told the Knesset Channel, “opposition to the realignment is growing. I believe in peace, but that it should be achieved by agreement, through negotiations. I believe we need patience, until there is someone to talk to. I don’t believe unilateral steps should be made. Even (former) Prime Minister Ariel Sharon opposed more Israeli retreats.”
Olmert’s office tried to put a political spin on Sheetrit’s commentary. “The timing of Sheetrit’s declaration was very calculated. He declared he would compete against Ehud Olmert for the leadership of Kadima,” Olmert’s associates said.
However Sheetrit was not alone in his sentiments, and after his interview was broadcast, Kadima ministers Gideon Ezra and Zeev Boim also broke their silence and raised questions regarding the plan.
A senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office said that “Sheetrit is supposed to assemble today a large political convention. With that, I am confident and sure that when the subject of realignment is put to vote in the Cabinet and Knesset, Minister Sheetrit won’t be rebelling and will act according to his obligations to the faction.”
However, Sheetrit was not planning any convention, and as far as it appeared, the public altercation was sparked by genuine ideological disagreement. Sheetrit was speaking from the Knesset Channel studios, and his comments were not written in advance but were made in response to Olmert’s statements promising to push forward the realignment.
'It’s an evolution of this war'
However, a senior source in Olmert’s office denied claims of a possible “revolt” against the realignment plan, saying “cabinet ministers have their own opinions; this is legitimate, but in no way is this is a rebellion. The prime minister regrets this, and he has voiced his opinion on the matter during last Sunday’s cabinet meeting; he asked the ministers who are well-informed on the matter top speak up, but some ministers did not accept this.”
Another Olmert aide said that in every Israeli government there were ministers who spoke out against its policies. He mentioned Benjamin Netanyahu, Danny Naveh and Uzi Landau, all of whom spoke out against the Sharon administration’s disengagement plan.
“Sheetrit’s statements did not erode Olmert’s confidence in the plan; on the contrary, this is his standpoint,” a source close to Olmert said. “Today it is clear to all of us, especially in light of the recent developments in Gaza, that it is much easier for us to deal with the Qassams when we are out of Gaza. With all due respect, there were more Qassam-related deaths before the disengagement. Therefore, these developments only strengthen the notion of realignment.”
The aide added that the realignment concept is gathering momentum also due to the international community’s reaction to operation “Summer Rains” in Gaza.
“We are acting there in an unprecedented manner; we’re firing hundreds of artillery shells, attacking from the air, sea and land and the world remains silent,” he said.
“The entire world is raging over one kidnapped Israeli soldier only because we withdrew from Gaza. By the way, there is no link between the Gaza pullout and the upgrading of the Qassam rockets and the consequent attacks on Ashkelon; this is a populist and baseless remark. The Qassams would have been upgraded even if we would have remained in Gaza, only then they would have hurt many more people.
“Look at the Qassam that was fired from Tul Karm; we are there (West Bank) with the entire army and they still manufacture Qassams; it’s an evolution of this war, and it has nothing to do with whether we are there or not.”
Another Olmert aide estimated that “with or without the realignment, the Palestinians will be in possession of Qassams in the West Bank. Minister Sheetrit and anyone else opposed to the plan will have to face some tough questions regarding the risking of lives when we are left with unsafe borders; there is also the matter of putting the army at risk inside Palestinian population and the issue of money-wasting.
“Why do this when we can realign in settlement blocs, prevent the risk and the waste and gain international sympathy,” he said.