Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Olmert Pitches Convergence Plan to the Europeans

An honor guard for Olmert in France (Channel 1)

It is not clear what Israeli PM Ehud Olmert hoped to get out of his trip to Europe other than crumpets and croissants. So far, Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac have reacted almost identically to Olmert's declarations about the great concessions he is prepared to make as part of his "convergence" plan: with tired indifference. Contrary to Le Monde, which imagined another instance of Anglo-American perfidy, speculating that

son plan dit de "regroupement" ("convergence" en anglais) ... aurait reçu les soutiens de MM. Bush et Blair [Olmert's "regroupement," or "convergence" plan in English, has received the support of Bush and Blair]

Blair actually did not endorse the convergence plan at all (see Aluf Benn's column in Ha'aretz for an analysis of the British position).

Olmert's plan envisions the "realignment" or bringing into Israel of most West Bank settlements, as well as the inclusion of some land beyond the 1967 borders to make the large, nearby settlement blocs continguous with the pre-1967 lines. It represents the second stage of the withdrawal from the territories acquired by Israel as part of the Six-Day War.

While Blair and Chirac did not express enthusiasm for convergence, they also have not expressed overt opposition to Olmert's plan. Rather, they have chosen to chant the old mantra of negotiated settlements, which Olmert has been clever enough to make a central part of his addresses as well. A unilateral solution, he emphasized several times, would only result if no partner could be found. Along the way, he repeated Israel's desire to work with Abbas, while stressing his opposition to dealing with Hamas, which still has not recognized the Jewish state's right to exist. This latter position too went unopposed by the Europeans. Here it is relevant to note the "overwhelmingly negative" perception of Hamas among Europeans reported in a recent poll by The Israel Project.

The withdrawal from the West Bank will be far more complicated than the "disengagement" from the Gaza strip. This is obviously true with respect to the number of people and settlements that will be evacuated, as well as with regard to the issue of final borders. But on the international front too, certain difficulties loom ominously. The Europeans will balk at recognizing the convergence as a withdrawal "from territories occupied in 1967" without serious efforts at negotiations with the Palestinians. And there is the rub. There is, as of yet, no partner on the Palestinian side who would accept Olmert's plan. Thus, if Israel hopes to attain international recognition of its new borders through another series of unilateral moves, it had better think again.

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