JERUSALEM – Seventy percent of Israelis oppose Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s planned withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, and most here who supported last summer’s evacuation of the Gaza Strip now say it was a bad idea, according to a poll released yesterday.
Olmert has been repeatedly claiming – including during speeches several times this past week – the majority of Israelis support his withdrawal plan, citing his election last March as a referendum on the proposed Judea and Samaria evacuation. Olmert’s Kadima Party won parliamentary ballots by a slim plurality.
Judea and Samaria is also commonly referred to as the West Bank. Olmert is seeking to withdraw from more than 95 percent of the territories, which are within rocket-firing range of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israel’s international airport.
The poll, commissioned by a local company and supervised by American strategist Arthur Finkelstein, revealed 70 percent of the general Israeli population oppose a Judea and Samaria withdrawal. Some 65 to 70 percent of those who backed last summer’s Gaza evacuation now object to Olmert’s Judea and Samaria pullout plan.
In addition, the survey showed 70 percent of Israelis who backed the Gaza pullout would have been against it today.
Yesterday’s poll was the latest demonstrating dwindling support for the Judea and Samaria withdrawal and for Olmert’s government. Another poll commissioned by the Haaretz newspaper and released two weeks ago found only 35 percent of the Israeli public is pleased with Olmert’s performance as prime minister. Israeli leaders typically enjoy wide public support in the early stages of their terms.
Just this week, Olmert claimed several times the majority of Israelis back his government and its withdrawal plan.
At an address Wednesday to the Zionist Congress, a meeting of world Jewish leaders, Olmert, discussing his plan, stated, “I have absolutely no doubt that the majority of citizens of Israel will give me their support.”
Threat to Middle East stability?
Israelis are not alone in opposing Olmert’s unilateral withdrawal. The Israeli leader recently has made diplomatic presentations of his plan in the United States, Egypt and Jordan. All three countries expressed reservations. Olmert is due in several European capitals in the coming weeks, but many European countries already have outlined their opposition to the withdrawal as well.
During a meeting with Olmert earlier this month in Amman, Jordan’s King Abdullah called the Israeli leader’s Judea and Samaria retreat a threat to his regime and to Mideast regional stability.
“Such a unilateral step would foster insecurity and doubts not only in the Palestinian Authority but among the rest of the peace partners in the region,” said Abdullah in an interview with Israel’s Yediot Aharonot daily.
Abdullah also expressed fear that if an Israeli withdrawal is implemented, Jordan might be flooded with Palestinians trying to escape Judea and Samaria.
As WND reported, following a meeting with Olmert also earlier this month, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak refused to support the withdrawal when prompted by a reporter at a press conference.
A senior Egyptian official told WND Mubarak “vehemently” opposes any Israeli unilateral withdrawal.
“Egypt is continually threatened by the anarchy in the Gaza Strip,” the official said. “Elements in Gaza have aided and abetted plotters of terror attacks against our land and sovereignty. A unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank could bring similar anarchy on a larger scale there and spill over into (neighboring) Jordan.”
The official spoke on condition of anonymity, claiming an on-the-record interview concerning Olmert’s evacuation plan could “complicate Egyptian diplomatic relationships.”
Rocket attacks, al-Qaida infiltration
Since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip last August, rockets have been fired regularly into nearby Jewish communities, Hamas has been elected to power and both Israeli and Palestinian officials have stated al-Qaida has infiltrated the territory. Egypt recently announced the terrorists who carried out April’s deadly triple-bomb blasts in the Sinai resort town of Dahab trained for the operation in the Gaza Strip with local Palestinians. They said Gaza-based terrorists helped finance the attack.
Analysts here contend Olmert’s evacuation plan would boost Hamas’ power in Judea and Samaria just as it did in Gaza. The terror group won January’s Palestinian parliamentary elections by a large margin. As part of its campaign platform, Hamas took credit for Israel’s Gaza withdrawal and pledged a similar Israeli retreat from Judea and Samaria.
Jordan has a strained relationship with Hamas, which it has been helping to diplomatically isolate. Jordanian officials announced last month security officers caught a large arms cache smuggled into the country by Hamas members. Jordanian television broadcast confessions by three Hamas militants who said they smuggled the arms for possible attacks against Jordanian officials and interests.
Hamas has a history of anti-Jordan activity. Officials there say they caught several other arms caches in the past belonging to the terror group. Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, a Jordanian citizen, was expelled in 1999 along with other leaders after a crackdown on the group following accusations of illegal activities.
Also Egypt is said to be closely monitoring the Hamas relationship with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to create an Islamic theocracy in place of the current Mubarak regime. Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood, which won an unprecedented 20 percent of the parliament in the latest Egyptian elections.
A number of Brotherhood leaders in Egypt have stated many times their group is strengthened by Israel’s Gaza withdrawal and Hamas’ ascension to power. They have said they wish to stage a similar takeover of Egypt.
“Gaza is a clear threat now to Egypt,” stated the Egyptian official. “What reason is there to believe things will result otherwise from any West Bank withdrawal?”
The United States also has expressed reservations about Olmert’s Judea and Samaria evacuation plan.
Following his White House meeting with Olmert last month, Bush’s comments regarding the prime minister’s proposed withdrawal stopped short of an endorsement. While giving Olmert credit for proposing “bold ideas” that “could be an important step” toward peace, Bush stressed the U.S.-led “Road Map,” which offers a Palestinian state, and urged talks with Abbas. He stated a negotiated agreement “best serves Israelis and Palestinians and the cause of peace.”
A member of the Israeli delegation at the White House meeting described the U.S. attitude toward the Judea and Samaria withdrawal as “lukewarm,” explaining the White House raised a number of concerns, including the possibility a terror entity will be created in the areas evacuated, reservations expressed by Jordan and the effects of the plan on U.S. regional interests.
Political sources close to Olmert’s office told WND the Israeli prime minister has been pressed to convince the Bush administration he has the political clout necessary to carry out his Judea and Samaria withdrawal.
“The Bush administration does not have faith that Olmert has the parliamentary coalition needed to sustain the firestorm of political activity that is sure to surround the implementation of the withdrawal,” said a political source. “They do not see him as the strongman Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was to them.”
Olmert leads a slim governing coalition of 67 out of 120 Knesset seats. Typically, Israeli governments composed of ongoing coalitions with fewer than 70 seats tend to be unstable and short-lived.
Olmert’s government relies heavily on 12 seats from the Ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which traditionally opposes land concessions and which some analysts have predicted may bolt the government as the Judea and Samaria withdrawal plan gets closer to implementation. According to yesterday’s Haaretz poll, a whopping 83 percent of Shas voters oppose the evacuation.
If Shas bolts, Olmert may then be forced to bring Arab parties into his government or form a coalition with the Knesset’s right-wing bloc, which would likely only enter the government on condition a Judea and Samaria withdrawal is either canceled or postponed.
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