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GLOBE EDITORIAL

Olmert's border fallacy

A RECENTLY broached plan to establish Israel's permanent borders through unilateral withdrawals from select West Bank settlements might make political sense for Kadima, the party of acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but it has very little chance of leading to the two-state peace accord Israelis and Palestinians need and want.

The aim of Olmert's plan is to ensure a Jewish majority within a defensible Israeli perimeter. The Kadima Party figure who described the plan, former Israeli security service director Avi Dichter, stressed that this will be a purely civilian, not a military, withdrawal. In the run-up to Israel's March 28 parliamentary election, Dichter's distinction looks like a way to fend off criticism from the right-wing Likud party, whose hawkish leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, recently said: ''The question today is who will cede territory and who will hold onto territory. I will hold onto territory."

Campaign politics is the wrong crucible for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And it is no less a mistake for Olmert to cite the recent electoral triumph of the Islamist movement Hamas as a justification for taking unilateral action. Satisfying as it may be for Israeli policy makers to opt for unilateral moves, such moves cannot resolve the conflict with the Palestinians, and so cannot bring Israel genuine security.

What happened as a consequence of Ariel Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza ought to be instructive. Sharon chose not to engage in negotiations over the Gaza move with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. If Sharon had at least gone through the motions of engaging with Abbas, then the Palestinian leader -- who had won his office on a platform of negotiating a two-state peace agreement with Israel -- could have taken credit for helping bring about the Gaza withdrawal. Instead, it was Hamas that took credit -- for driving Israel out of Gaza with suicide bombings and rocket attacks.

Today the Olmert proposal for a partial West Bank withdrawal repeats the Sharon mistake of playing into the hands of Hamas. It is a plan that leaves 250,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, prolongs a military occupation that humiliates Palestinians and makes daily life infuriatingly difficult, and carves up the territory left to Palestinians in a way that makes it practically impossible to form a viable state.

This could be a formula for validating the Hamas line that armed resistance is the only path for Palestinians. The Israeli government chosen on March 28 will have a better chance of achieving secure permanent borders if it proposes negotiations toward an end-of- conflict peace accord that Hamas could only reject at the price of alienating the Palestinian populace.

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