JERUSALEM – Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, founder of the currently ruling Kadima Party, opposed any Israeli unilateral withdraw from Judea and Samaria, a senior Kadima minister said today.
Housing and Construction Minister Meir Sheetrit also said it was unlikely any withdrawal could be implemented in the near future and that others in the Kadima Party have been quietly expressing reservations to the Judea and Samaria evacuation plan.
Sheetrit’s statements immediately followed a press conference today in which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters in Jerusalem he will forge ahead with his plan to evacuate most of Judea and Samaria in spite of raging violence in the Gaza Strip that prompted ground troops to enter the territory two weeks ago.
Judea and Samaria is also commonly referred to as the West Bank.
“I have not changed my mind about the [withdrawal] plan following the events in recent days and am still decisive about continuing towards an ultimate separation from the Palestinians and towards solid, secure borders,” Olmert announced today.
Sharon had also promised secure borders after the Gaza withdrawal was implemented last August. But rockets have been regularly fired from Gaza the last 10 months aimed at neighboring Jewish communities, with Palestinian missiles last week hitting the populated town of Ashkelon, which houses Israel’s main power station and strategic oil and gas pipelines.
Judea and Samaria are within rocket firing range of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israel’s international airport.
Hamas last month attacked an Israeli military station using an underground tunnel dug from Gaza, kidnapping an Israeli soldier and instigating an Israeli ground invasion in Gaza.
Critics of the Gaza withdrawal had long warned the retreat would prompt an onslaught of terrorism requiring the Israeli Defense Forces to reenter the territory.
Military and political leaders, including senior Gaza commanders, Kadima government cabinet members and former defense ministers have been calling on Israel to reoccupy parts of Gaza to stop the Qassam firings.
Officials from the ruling Kadima Party, which Sharon founded prior to his massive stroke in January, have been stating for months their planned withdrawal from Judea and Samaria was a policy initiated by Sharon.
But Sheetrit said in an interview today that Sharon “was opposed to another Israeli withdrawal.”
He also said the current chances of implementing Olmert’s withdrawal plan are “very slim. There are many reservations, including my own. I do not believe in another unilateral disengagement.”
“If he was fully functional today, Sharon would have told the world, ‘Look what we got from [withdrawing from Gaza and] making concessions for peace. So if you think I am going to give one inch of more land, you are very wrong,'” said Dan.
Dan first became friends with Sharon in 1954. When Sharon was defense minister in 1982, Dan served as his media adviser. He is well-known in Israel to have been one of Sharon’s closest confidantes throughout Sharon’s premiership.
Dan said Sharon told him repeatedly there would be no further unilateral withdrawals following Israel’s Gaza evacuation.
“Sharon said time and time again there would absolutely be no more unilateral withdrawals [after Gaza]. He fully predicted Hamas would rise to power and would not want to abandon Judea and Samaria to terror groups,” said Dan.
Dan said Sharon’s future policy supported President George W. Bush’s “Road Map to Peace,” which calls for the dismantlement of Palestinian terror groups before negotiations can be conducted regarding any land transfers.
“Sharon agreed to accept the Road Map because he believed that despite its many drawbacks it would serve as Israel’s best international line of political defense,” Dan said.
He said if the Palestinians met the requirements set forth in the Road Map, Sharon may have dismantled some Judea and Samaria Jewish communities in the framework of a negotiated settlement.
“[But] at a time like this, a promise of further withdrawals only encourages Hamas to intensify its extremist positions. …Would [Sharon] have gotten up and announced the fact at a time when Israel is waging an international struggle against Hamas’ legitimacy? Of course not,” said Dan.
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