WASHINGTON — In an address to a right-wing American Jewish organization, Israel’s ambassador to Washington pledged that his government would not remove any more West Bank settlements after the planned dismantling of four communities in August.
The Israeli ambassador, Daniel Ayalon, made his remarks to members of the Zionist Organization of America during the organization’s recent lobbying mission in Washington. Ayalon was responding to the organization’s national president, Morton Klein, who asked if the Jewish, West Bank communities on the eastern side of Israel’s security fence — including Beit El, Kedumim and Kiryat Arba — would be removed.
Ayalon said that no more settlements would be removed after Israel completes its “unilateral disengagement” next month, which calls for the removal of all Jewish settlements in Gaza and four more in the northern West Bank.
Ayalon’s comments seem to contradict statements made recently by Israeli Vice Premier Ehud Olmert. In December 2004, Olmert told The Jerusalem Post that “Israel’s interest requires a disengagement on a wider scale than what will happen as part of the current disengagement plan.” Immediately following the disengagement, the office of Prime Minister Sharon issued a statement saying that no plan existed for an additional redeployment from the West Bank. The statement did not rule out the possibility of further unilateral disengagement steps.
A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington confirmed last week that during his address to the ZOA, Ayalon ruled out any future removal of West Bank settlements.
In the past, ZOA activists have heckled speakers who supported Israeli concessions. But even though he faced some piercing questions regarding his support for the Gaza pullout, he was not jeered.
The ZOA event, which drew 250 participants from across the country, also featured speeches from one senator, Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning, and 18 members of the House of Representatives, including six Jewish Democrats: Brad Sherman of California, Steve Rothman of New Jersey, Anthony Weiner and Eliot Engel of New York, Ben Cardin of Maryland and Shelley Berkley of Nevada.
“You can’t trust the Palestinian Authority to live up to their agreements,” Bunning said. But neither Bunning nor any of the House members endorsed the ZOA’s opposition to the Gaza disengagement plan.
Spokesmen for the Jewish House members who addressed the ZOA activists said that their bosses’ participation should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the ZOA’s views regarding the pullout. The spokesmen said the Democratic lawmakers support the decisions of a legitimate, democratically elected Israeli government.
According to leaders of the organization, during their 200 meetings on Capitol Hill with congressmen and staffers, ZOA activists did not urge members of Congress to oppose the Israeli government’s plan. Instead, the activists explained why they opposed the plan. The ZOA members focused on efforts to rally congressional support for the newly introduced Saudi Arabian Accountability Act, which will slap diplomatic sanctions on Saudi Arabia if the kingdom does not stop the flow of Saudi money to terrorist groups.