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Vote Was Not a Mandate for Further Withdrawals

April 13, 2006 By:
Morton Klein
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After the recent Israeli elections, many commentators, including editorialists in The New York Times and The Washington Post and even the Jewish Exponent, have taken the outcome to mean that the Israeli electorate endorses further unilateral withdrawals. But that's not true.

There was a close finish between the left of center pro-withdrawal parties and the right of center anti-withdrawal parties, with the left gaining 54 seats while a combination of the parties of the right (Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and the National Union/National Religious Party) with that of the haredi Orthodox parties gained 50.

Thus, the Israeli electorate actually sent a divided message on future unilateral withdrawals, and the forced expulsion of Jews from Judea and Samaria.

It's important to note that in the last two weeks Olmert made a major public issue of promoting a substantial unilateral withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, and giving it to Hamas, in addition to a forced expulsion of Jews from there. In the last week of the election campaign, Olmert also repeatedly declared that he would not permit any party into his government who would not accept these conditions. The more Olmert emphasized these points, the more his support fell. Thus, Kadima's support dropped precipitously in the last few weeks winning only 29 seats (23 percent of the vote) after being well above 40 seats only a month ago.

Olmert might manage, by including all left-wing parties - Kadima (29), Labor (20), Meretz (5) and the new Pensioners' Party (7) - to form a bare majority of 61 seats.

Further withdrawals today could further divide an already fractured electorate. If Olmert intends to proceed with further unilateral land giveaways to the terrorist Hamas-run Palestinian Authority regime, and the forced removal of tens of thousands of Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria, a referendum should be strongly considered.

It also seems clear that defense and security issues were not uppermost in the public mind, and therefore cannot be read as evidence of a policy one way or the other on further unilateral withdrawals. Economic and social issues played the largest role in determining the outcome than any other election in the last 30 years.

The fact that the Pensioners' Party gained seven seats, instead of the expected one seat, may well have been due to former Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's economic policies, which reduced government monies to lower-middle-class Israelis. These economic policies also likely reduced Likud to its surprising 12 seat result. The Labor Party also ran its campaign almost entirely on economic and other domestic and labor policies, not on land concessions to Hamas.

It is quite likely that Olmert and Kadima benefited from other factors, too - sympathy for Kadima founder Ariel Sharon's tragic medical condition, and loyalty by Likud voters to the 14 Likud members who switched to Kadima.

Little of this had much to do with the withdrawal plan.

We must also remember that former premier Sharon himself repeatedly said before his stroke there would be no more concessions of any sort unless, and until, the Palestinians fulfill all of their obligations. Sharon made this statement before the Islamic terrorist group Hamas came to power.

In fact, Uri Dan, a well-known Israeli journalist and decades-long friend of Sharon, recently has written that Olmert's withdrawal and expulsion plan from Judea and Samaria would never have been proposed by Ariel Sharon. Also, one of Olmert's own Kadima colleagues, Meir Shitreet, stated following the election that the issue of disengagement and unilateral withdrawals is not on the agenda.

If Israelis really wanted withdrawal to proceed, Olmert's support would have strengthened in the last few weeks when he emphasized withdrawal, not dramatically weakened. With an even split between right and left, there was no message by Israelis to unilaterally withdraw from more land, let alone a mandate for such a move.

Morton A. Klein is national president of the Zionist Organization of America.

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