Thu, Aug 17, 2006 - Page 6 News List

West Bank plan appears doomed

THE GUARDIAN , JERUSALEM

One of the many casualties of the war in Lebanon will almost certainly be the Israeli government's plans to withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government has been weakened by criticism of its handling of the war and is in no position to force through its controversial "realignment policy" of unilateral withdrawal from Palestinian territory.

Hezbollah's unleashing of thou-sands of rockets from a border strip in Lebanon vacated six years ago by Israeli forces, coming soon after Hamas' use of rockets from the Gaza Strip, has created a political backlash against withdrawal.

Olmert's hopes of pursuing his realignment policy appeared to have been delivered a fatal blow on Tuesday, with the leak of a government panel's report on its consequences.

According to Haaretz newspaper, the committee found that a withdrawal would leave cities such as Tel Aviv vulnerable to rocket attacks from the West Bank.

"It is well known that as far as public opinion is concerned, unilateral steps are over already," said Avshalom Vilan, a Knesset member from the leftwing Meretz party. "They will not work. There is no majority for them in the Knesset at the moment or in the future."

He added that Palestinian militants might draw inspiration from Hezbollah and rely more heavily on rocket attacks against Israel.

Ghassan Khatib, the labor minister in the Palestinian Authority, confirmed that Hezbollah's perceived ability to survive Israel's offensive had strengthened Palestinian militancy.

Yossi Alpher, an adviser to former prime minister Ehud Barak at the 2000 Camp David peace talks, said: "We have already been attacked across two internationally recognized borders, across which we withdrew unilaterally, and the West Bank won't even be an internationally negotiated border."

While there is widespread agreement that realignment has hit a brick wall, it is far from clear what the government will do next. Vilan said he hoped the impasse would lead to a resumption of dialogue with the Palestinian Authority over a negotiated withdrawal.

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