Speaking today at a luncheon sponsored by “The Israel Project,” Israel’s Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert confirmed that the highly controversial initiative to withdraw settlers from Gaza will proceed.
In April, Vice Prime Minister Olmert said “Disengagement from the Gaza Strip will begin with or without Palestinian coordination. There may be some coordination, but lack of agreement and coordination in all areas will not prevent the disengagement.”
He was laying out the plan for Israel to withdraw from Gaza, acknowledging “It will be difficult and heartbreaking for most of us.”
Today, as the date draws closer, Mr Olmert said that nothing would stop the beginning of this disengagement – “We have passed the point of no return.”
The withdrawal of Jewish settlers from lands traditionally thought of as Jewish Homeland will not be without protests.
Vice Prime Minister Olmert said “There will be some opposition – they will not help us – they will need to be pushed.”
The Police and Military are prepared for any eventuality, but they don’t expect major violence. He said “We think it will be more relaxed than most people believe.”
Speaking of Palestinians, he said “We believe that happier Palestinians will be better neighbors. We will not patronize or dominate them. We will help to improve Palestinian economic conditions. We will provide support for Abu Mazen to combat terror.”
This is the strategy that guides the Israeli Government.
It is important that the disengagement be carried out successfully. This is the first chapter, not the last.
The Vice Prime Minister would not discuss later moves until the first has taken place. It is very important not to pre-empt this first step.
Asked a question about democracy in Palestine and Lebanon, Vice Prime Minister Olmert said Abu Mazen was elected with 66% of the vote, the second had 20% and there were others with 5% and 6%. This is the first time the leader was not elected with 99%.
“So there was a democratic process – it has started – this is very important.”
“If the Palestinians are prepared to assume the requirements of democracy, they have accepted the challenge of democracy. We will support it. We respect their will to change.”
Lebanon is not yet there. Hezbollah is a dangerous political organization. It still remains to be seen what will happen. It is a very important change that the Syrians responded to US and French pressure.
The luncheon and Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s Q&A session were arranged by The Israel Project.