The focus of political debate in Israel between now and November will be the planned Peace Conference. Two approaches seem to be shaping up.
One is expressed by the Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, who argues that no withdrawal from the West Bank should take place until Israel has developed an anti-rocket system to prevent the recurrence, this time from the West Bank, of the Hizbollah-type rocketing of Israeli cities and other targets during the 2006 War in Lebanon.
The other is represented by Olmert’s deputy and confidant, Vice Premier Haim Ramon. Two respected correspondents of Yediot Achronot wrote on September 6, 2007, that Ramon met with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad to work on a statement of principles for the conference. The journalists alleged that the position Ramon put forth included offering the Palestinians an Israeli withdrawal from nearly the entire West Bank, including the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, as part of a final peace deal. According to the report's account of Ramon's offer, the border between Israel and the future Palestinian state will roughly follow the route of Israel's West Bank security wall. This would leave the major Israeli settlement blocs that comprise between 3 and 8 percent of the West Bank in Israel's hands. In return, Israel will cede the same amount of land inside Israel to the Palestinians to make up for the annexed territory. Such an offer would be an improvement on Barak’s 2000 offer which included only partial territorial compensation. In addition, he alleged to have offered a land corridor between the West Bank and Gaza, a long-standing Palestinian demand.
The Yediot Achoronot article explained the relationship between Olmert and Ramon in this fashion: Olmert is aware of and approves of Ramon's negotiating activities. If Ramon is successful in reaching an accord, Olmert will publicly adopt the results, and if they fail, Olmert will portray them as Ramon’s personal effort. If this is indeed the case, Ramon is playing the same role Beilin did in his talks with Abu Mazen (Abbas) in 1995. That agreement was never given an official hearing as it was concluded shortly before Rabin’s assassination on 4 November 1995. At the same time, its principles served as the core of the 2000 Camp David Two talks between Barak and Arafat.
It is much too soon to take the report on Ramon’s negotiations at face value but there is growing tension within the ranks of Kadima, Olmert’s Party, as November nears. At the same time, Yediot Achronot reports today (September 9, 2007), that in view of Olmert’s efforts there is a growing willingness on the part of the Labor Party to stay in the coalition government with Kadima. Yossi Beilin, Haim Oron, and “Peace Now” leaders to the left of Labor are also seeking ways to strengthen his public standing and to advance the negotiations.