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Olmert’s party wins Israeli election; spotlight now on parts of biblical Judea & Samaria

JERUSALEM (BP)–Significant parts of the biblical Judea and Samaria, known today as the West Bank, may become the next focal point in Israeli-Palestinian volatility following Israel’s parliamentary elections March 28.

The Kadima party led by Ehud Olmert, Israel’s acting prime minister and former mayor of Jerusalem, received enough votes to take the lead in forming a coalition government.

The new government, according to Olmert’s statements during the campaign, will aim to secure Israel’s borders and do so, if necessary, by a unilateral pullback from the West Bank that could remove 70,000 of the 250,000 Jewish settlers in the region.

“Just so much of Judea and Samaria are kind of on the auction block,” lamented Rich Hastings, a Kansas City, Mo., healthcare executive and Baptist layman with strong ties to Israel.

The Kadima party, formed by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last November, garnered 28 seats in Israel’s Knesset in the March 28 voting, fewer than had been projected. The popular Israeli leader suffered a debilitating stroke on Jan. 4 and has since been in a coma, leaving the government and Kadima (which means “forward”) largely in Olmert’s hands.

Olmert, on March 29, praised Sharon for having had “the courage, the strength, the will and the determination to see things differently and to create change.” The new prime minister noted, “In the coming period, we will move to set the final borders of the state of Israel” preferably “through negotiations, in an agreement with the Palestinians.”

Olmert directed a message to the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, who himself is in a tenuous position following the terror-prone Hamas movement’s claim to 76 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council in Jan. 25 elections.

Olmert said Israel is “prepared to compromise, give up parts of our beloved land of Israel [and] remove, painfully, Jews who live there, to allow you the conditions to achieve your hopes and to live in a state in peace and quiet.”

Palestinians should find “the required strength for the same compromise,” Olmert said, urging them “to accept only part of their dream, to stop terror, to accept democracy and accept compromise and peace with us. We are prepared for this. We want this.”

Olmert declared that, “If the Palestinians agree to act soon, we will sit at the negotiating table to create a new reality in our region. If they do not, Israel will take its fate into its own hands. … We will not wait forever.”

Hamas’ leader, Ismail Haniya, however, said in a speech that the Palestinians will carry on in their armed fight for independence. “We were born from the womb of resistance, we will protect resistance and the arm of resistance will not be touched,” he was quoted as saying.

Hastings, president of St. Luke’s Health System in Kansas City and a member of First Baptist Church in Raytown, described Olmert as a man of integrity –- and one with whom Hastings has prayed. “He was completely accepting of the fact that we were praying in the name of Jesus,” said Hastings, who has been involved in various trade missions to Israel and has also led a yearly tour group to the Holy Land. Hastings also was the chairman of the 2004 Billy Graham crusade in Kansas City.

“What I am disappointed in is the plan to divide up or give away parts of the Holy Land — parts of the Promised Land because, after all, the land was promised to the Jewish people, the Israeli people.”

Hastings described himself as “a strict Bible-believer” from the standpoint that “all through Genesis and, actually, all the way through the Old Testament, there is time and time again [God’s declaration] that the land has been promised to Israel.”

“And at no place do we find any Scripture, that I’m aware of, that indicates that that promise was taken away,” Hastings said. That includes the Gaza Strip, he said, where Sharon forced nearly 9,000 settlers from their communities last year.

Noting that Olmert has indicated the new pullback process may take a year, Hastings said he will be praying that political events and “other events that the Lord may impact” will stir Olmert to understand “that this is not a good idea.”

Within the West Bank areas that could be handed over to the Palestinian Authority, Hastings said, are Shiloh, where “the tent of the tabernacle was for almost 300 years,” and the site commonly described as where Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well.

Hastings said Nablus, for example, which already has been given to the Palestinians, is the site of Joseph’s tomb, which has deteriorated from neglect and been made inaccessible to tour groups.

One positive outcome from the March 28 Israeli election, Hastings added, is that “the people who were pro-giving away the land did not hit the numbers that they thought they would, while the people who want to preserve the land got a better-than-expected turnout.”

The parties that would tend to favor retention of the biblical lands, however, will hold only a small minority of seats in the new Knesset, which opens April 17, and they have varied stances on other issues facing the nation.

An even stronger warning about Israel’s future was issued the day before the election by Daniel Pipes, director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum and author of numerous books on the troubled region.

Pipes had noted that “not one of the leading parties offers the option of winning the war against the Palestinian Arabs,” calling it a “striking and dangerous” circumstance.

“The Arabs fight to eliminate Israel; Israel fights to win the acceptance of its neighbors,” Pipes wrote in a commentary carried in various media outlets. “… For nearly 60 years, Arab rejectionists have sought to eliminate Israel via a range of strategies: undermining its legitimacy through propaganda, harming its economy through a trade boycott, demoralizing it through terrorism and threatening its population via WMD. While the Arab effort has been patient, intense and purposeful, it has also failed. Israelis have built a modern, affluent and strong country, but one still largely rejected by Arabs.”

As a result, “a sense of confidence [has emerged] among politically moderate Israelis,” alongside “a sense of guilt and self-criticism among its leftists. Very few Israelis still worry about the unfinished business of getting the Arabs to accept the permanence of the Jewish state. … Rather than seek victory, Israelis have developed a lengthy menu of approaches to manage the conflict.”

Among them, as described by Pipes:

— “Unilateralism (building a wall, partial withdrawals): the current policy, as espoused by Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and the Kadima Party.

— “Lease for 99 years the land under Israeli towns on the West Bank: the Labor Party of Amir Peretz.

— “Palestinian Arab economic development: Shimon Peres.

— “Territorial compromise: The premise of Oslo diplomacy, as initiated by Yitzhak Rabin.

— “Outside funding for the Palestinian Arabs (on the Marshall Plan model): U.S. Representative Henry Hyde.

— “Retreat to the 1967 borders: Israel’s far left.

— “Push the Palestinian Arabs to develop good government: Natan Sharansky (and President Bush).

— “Insist that Jordan is Palestine: Israel’s right.

— “Transfer the Palestinian Arabs out of the West Bank: Israel’s far right.”

Pipes noted that such approaches “are very different in spirit and mutually exclusive,” yet they have “a key element in common. All manage the conflict without resolving it. All ignore the need to defeat Palestinian rejectionism. All seek to finesse war rather than win it.

“And so, they experiment with compromise, unilateralism, enriching their enemies and other schemes,” Pipes continued. “But as Douglas MacArthur observed, ‘In war, there is no substitute for victory.’ The Oslo diplomacy ended in dismal failure and so will all the other schemes that avoid the hard work of winning.

“Israelis eventually must gird themselves to resuming the difficult, bitter, long and expensive effort needed to convince the Palestinians and others that their dream of eliminating Israel is defunct,” Pipes wrote.

“Should Israelis fail to achieve this,” he stated, “then Israel itself will be defunct.”