New York – The ZOA and others have opposed Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declaring a ceasefire with Hamas and the other the Palestinian Arab terror groups, offering renewed talks with the Palestinian Authority (PA)/Hamas to lead to giving land and other major Israeli concessions, including the creation of a Palestinian/Hamas state and the forcible removal of tens of thousands of Jewish men, women and children from their homes in Judea and Samaria. Olmert also promised the release of an unspecified large number of Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli jails in exchange for the release of the kidnapped Israeli corporal, Gilad Shalit. Olmert made this offer despite the fact that, between 1993 and 1999, Israel released 6,912 terrorists, of whom 854 committed further terrorist acts which claimed the lives of 123 Israelis. (Report by the Almagor Terror Victims Association, Israel National News, September 8).
Excerpts from Olmerts speech:
- In the framework of this dialogue, and in accordance with the Roadmap, you [the Palestinian Arabs] will be able to establish an independent and viable Palestinian State, with territorial contiguity in Judea and Samaria — a State with full sovereignty and defined borders … These borders will be different from the territories currently under Israels control. I understand the importance which the Palestinian society attributes to the issue of prisoners.
- I hereby declare that when Gilad Shalit is released and returned to his family, safe and sound, the Government of Israel will be willing to release numerous Palestinian prisoners — including ones who were sentenced to lengthy prison terms — in order to increase the trust between us and prove that our hand is truly extended in genuine peace.
- I know that many Palestinian families yearn for the day when their loved ones will return home. This day could be very close.
- We, the State of Israel, will agree to the evacuation of many territories and communities which were established therein.
Olmerts speech has been strongly criticized by senior Israel Defense Forces (IDF) figures, leading defense experts, opposition legislators and even members of Olmerts own Kadima Party. Throughout recent months, senior defense establishment officials have consistently stated that a ceasefire will only serve the Palestinian terrorists. The IDF Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the decision to declare a ceasefire in Gaza had been adopted by the government after only a partial consultation with the army. During the meeting Halutz also said that, following the ceasefire, the Palestinians have attempted to create a new equation on the ground, according to which military operations in the West Bank will result in retaliation in Gaza through Qassem rocket fire on Israel (Yediot Ahronot, November 28).
Reactions to the Olmert governments ceasefire:
- Yuval Steinitz, former chairman, Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee: Olmerts speech represents the ultimate burial of Israeli determination, and the military and diplomatic triumph of Hamas. Here we have the prime minister of Israel promising the earth, in more ways than one, to the Palestinian parliament and government, most of whose members belong to a terrorist organization committed by its own charter to the destruction of Israel. And all this after more than a year in which previous agreements and truces have been bloodily breached … it will shatter what remains of the Western diplomatic boycott of Hamas, and provide legitimacy for the new unity government that will soon be set up under Hamass direction and influence. A diplomatic initiative with the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority — even if it ultimately crashes on the rocks of terrorism and the demand to destroy Israel, by means of the right of return, like its predecessors – will leave in its wake a fundamental difference: a de facto recognition by Israel, and therefore a de jure recognition by the world, of Hamas as a partner in the international circle, without that group having made any significant and permanent change in its platform or tactics … the hudna [ceasefire] appeals to Hamas is its plan to exploit the opportunity Olmert has given the Palestinians for a truly important aim — the ongoing strengthening of a Hizballah-style army in the Gaza Strip, including a continual threat of rocket fire on southern Israel … The cease-fire will fizzle out sooner or later, but Hamas will gain from it both on the diplomatic and military fronts. It is interesting to see that the failure against Hamas in the South is an exact replication of the failure against Hizballah in the North. In both cases, the IDF tried to win a war with air strikes and artillery fire, while neglecting to take over the territory of the terror organizations (Jerusalem Post , November 27).
- Zeev Schiff, Military analyst, liberal newspaper, Haaretz: Hamass strategy worked. In return for symbolic concessions to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas — and due mostly to its employment of force against Israel and the Israel Defense Forces failure to put an end to the launching of Qassem rockets — Hamas is reaping a major achievement. And anyone who is wondering whether the cease-fire will enable Hamas to become stronger should remember that following the groups electoral victory, Israel decided that it would not allow Hamas to consolidate its power unless it met a number of conditions. These conditions have not been met … Hamas showed no flexibility over the conditions presented to it by the international community (recognizing Israel, relinquishing violence and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements) … What is particularly worrying is that Hamas succeeded in securing calm in order to better entrench itself. This success was achieved through violence that Israel did not manage to prevent — the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit and the intensification of Qassem rocket attacks against Sderot. Israel did not stop the rocket launches, and the public pressure on Ehud Olmerts government grew. ( Haaretz, November 28).
- MK Gilad Erdan (Likud): Israels first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion must be turning over in his grave at the military and diplomatic blindness shown by the Prime Minister … [Olmert] continues to ignore the warnings of the security leaders, choosing instead to deal with withdrawals and retreats instead of strengthening Israels strength and deterrence power ( Israel National News, November 28).
- Two unnamed members of Olmerts Kadima Party: How can it be that the Prime Minister, the leader of our party, talks about a new broad diplomatic plan without even consulting with his own party members? … Because theres a ceasefire for a day and a half, we have to go and promise a Palestinian state and the release of terrorist prisoners? ( Israel National News, November 28).
- Unnamed Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Central Command official: The moment we walk away [from Judea and Samaria] terror will flourish ( Jerusalem Post, November 28).
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, The ZOA is deeply concerned and disappointed by Olmerts speech foreshadowing major concessions including creating a Palestinian state, before the PA/Hamas has fulfilled even the minimum conditions for the restarting of negotiations — implementing its obligations under the signed Oslo agreements and the 2003 Roadmap peace plan to arrest, jail and extradite terrorists, close the bomb factories and end the incitement to hatred and murder in the PA-controlled media, mosques, schools and youth camps. In these circumstances, the Olmert government should not be even discussing concessions and rewards to the PA/ Hamas. Additionally, in order to give the terrorist groups a state, he is willing to uproot tens of thousands of Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria. This would be a tragedy and a human rights catastrophe which would in any case not bring peace, just as the destruction of the Jewish communities in Gaza last year brought more bloodshed and danger for Israel, not less.
Prime Minister Olmert also made another concession — offering to release unspecified large numbers of Palestinian terrorists in exchange for the release of the kidnapped corporal, Gilad Shalit, whom Olmert rightly and initially insisted be released unconditionally. This is simply appeasement of terrorists which will embolden them and encourage future kidnappings and result in more Israeli deaths at the hands of released terrorists, as the Almagor Terror Victims Association report presented to Olmert less than three months ago clearly demonstrates.
Worse, Prime Minister Olmert has agreed to an immediate ceasefire which will enable the Palestinian terrorist groups to continue to rebuild and rearm themselves with a continuing flow of weapons smuggled into Gaza. The ceasefire, at most, will only bring a temporary calm, but the terrorists will be able to strengthen themselves and prepare for the next wave of their terror war. The ceasefire does not address this growing threat. As a result, more Israeli lives, both military and civilian, will be lost because of the Olmert governments abject failure to initiate a comprehensive military campaign aimed at destroying the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza and reoccupying at least the Philadelphi Corridor along the Egypt-Gaza border with a view to putting an end to Palestinian weapons smuggling. This is something which senior IDF figures, like the former Officer Commanding Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, have said that only Israel can achieve by its presence there on the ground.
A ceasefire under current conditions will not benefit Israel, only the terrorists. What is needed is an unrelenting war on the terrorist groups, not a ceasefire that rewards their recent aggression by allowing them time to regroup and prepare for the next wave of terror against Israeli civilians.