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JERUSALEM – Over 100 prominent senior Israeli rabbis gathered in Jerusalem yesterday to blast Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan to unilaterally withdraw from most of the West Bank and to urge religious Knesset parties to abstain from joining Olmert’s newly elected government.
Ultra-Orthodox parties scored high in elections here this week. Their participation is considered crucial for Olmert to form any stable ruling coalition.
“Mathematically, the Israeli left has 52 mandates, and every coalition, in every form, is dependent on the religious and the ultra-Orthodox,” said Nobel Prize-winning Professor Rabbi Yisrael Aumann at the Jerusalem press conference, arranged by the Rabbinical Congress for Peace.
“If a call goes out from here for religious parties not to join a coalition of parties willing to give away territories, there won’t be an [Olmert] coalition.”
Olmert’s Kadima Party this week won by a slim majority the most mandates in the 120-seat Knesset. The leader of the party that wins the most seats becomes prime minister and must form a governing coalition consisting of more than 60 Knesset seats in order to assume power.
Professor Rabbi Yisrael Aumann speaking yesterday at Jerusalem press conference. Sitting from right to left: Rabbi Moshe Havlin, chief rabbi of Kiryat Gat; Rabbi Yosef Gerlitzky, chairman of the Rabbinical Congress for Peace; Rabbi Yehuda Yeruslovsky, secretary of Chabad Rabbinical Court; former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and his aide Rabbi Zaafrani
Leading Israeli political analysts contend Olmert, with 29 seats, would need a religious party to join him if he is to form a stable government. The ultra-Orthodox Shas party, with 13 seats, has said it might join Olmert’s coalition if certain economic conditions are met.
A resolution passed by the Rabbinical Congress at yesterday’s conference called on “all parties from the right and left of the political spectrum to immediately abandon its concessionary psychology and not to form or join any coalition that agrees to withdraw from any part of Judea and Samaria.”
The resolution expressed shock that “after the increased terror alerts throughout Israel and daily rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israel precipitated by the withdrawal from Gaza, there are still those who delude themselves into thinking that by further withdrawal from any part of Judea and Samaria peace will reign in the region.”
It declared any withdrawal from the West Bank against Jewish law:
“[A withdrawal] will only lead to increased bloodshed and instability in the region as determined in the Jewish Code of Law Orach Chaim Chapter 329 [which restricts Jews from giving territory to an enemy that will use the gained land to attack].”
One rabbi at the conference challenged widespread reports the United States pressured Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip this past summer.
Rabbi Moshe Havlin of the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish outreach movement in Israel told reporters, “One of the Chabad emissaries in the U.S. who is very friendly with President Bush met with Bush at a function before Gaza withdrawal. He asked Bush why the U.S. is pressuring Israel on a withdrawal. Bush replied, ‘I’m pressuring Israel? It is Sharon pressuring me on Gaza!'”
Olmert in February announced if his Kadima Party wins upcoming elections his administration will seek to “change Israel’s borders” by withdrawing from the vast majority of the West Bank.
The territory is within rocket-firing range of Jerusalem and borders most major Israeli cities. Military strategists long have estimated Israel must maintain the West Bank to defend itself from any ground invasion.
Olmert said under his plan Israel will maintain select security zones and some of the area’s major West Bank Jewish communities, alluding to evacuating West Bank towns that fall outside Israel’s security fence.
About 200,000 Jews live in the West Bank. The security fence, still under construction in certain areas, cordons off nearly 95 percent of the territory from Israel’s pre-1967 borders. More than half the West Bank’s Jewish residents reside on the side of the fence closest to Israel. About 80,000 more Jews live on the other side of the barrier.
Last week, just days before the elections, the Kadima Party revealed it also would divide Jerusalem and allow a Palestinian state to be established in parts of Israel’s “eternal capital.”
“The Old City, Mount Scopus, the Mount of Olives, the City of David, Sheikh Jarra will remain in our hands, but [regarding] Kafr Akeb, Abu-Ram, Shuafat, Hizma, Abu-Zaim, Abu-Tur, Abu Dis, in the future, when the Palestinian state is established, they will become its capital,” said Otniel Schneller, a Kadima member who represented the party at an official debate last week on dividing Jerusalem.
The revelation followed months of denials by top Kadima officials the party would advocate withdrawing from Jerusalem.
The neighborhoods Schneller listed are located on Jerusalem’s periphery, near the city’s border with the West Bank.
Schneller said Kadima supports “separation between us and the Palestinians who don’t live in the heart of Jerusalem,” claiming there would be “no concessions” on sites that are sacred to Jews.
Kadima’s claims last week of “only” withdrawing from peripheral sections of Jerusalem worry many here. The Israeli government has denied previous withdrawal plans only to carry them out later, followed by announcements of more withdrawals in larger magnitudes from areas it pledged not to vacate.