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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 August 2006, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
Israel press rounds on Olmert
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Mr Olmert is accused of confusing separate issues

Israeli commentators take Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to task for suggesting that a military victory in Lebanon would give a boost to his plan to secure the country's borders in a bid to move towards peace with the Palestinians.

A subsequent retraction failed to stem criticism both from the right and left, with one commentator calling the prime minister "stupid" and "arrogant" for linking what are seen as separate issues.

Under the so-called convergence plan, Israel would cede some ground to the Palestinians, while consolidating its hold on occupied East Jerusalem and the land behind the security barrier it is building in the West Bank. Some major Jewish settlements would remain on occupied Palestinian territory.

Writing in the centre-right Ma'ariv, Ben Kaspit believes that Mr Olmert "scored a miserable own goal yesterday".

Why did the prime minister need to ignite so sensitive a powder keg?
Commentator in Hatzofe

"How is it possible to explain to the prime minister what he did yesterday? His statement in a press interview according to which 'the IDF's victory in Lebanon will give momentum to the convergence plan' is a mixture of leadership stupidity, familiar arrogance, sick stubbornness and extreme lack of sensitivity.

"Most worrying is that it took Olmert a long time to understand the magnitude of his stupidity," Mr Kaspit continues. "You must decide whether you are prime minister of the convergence or prime minister of Israel, because Israel needs you today even more than the convergence needs you."

"Why did the prime minister need to ignite so sensitive a powder keg?," asks Motty Zaft in Hatzofe, a paper linked to the National Religious Party.

Blaming him for a "self-inflicted injury", the columnist says there is now a widespread belief that there is no military or political rationale for the convergence plan "in view of the conduct of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip after Israel's withdrawal".

He argues that Mr Olmert's interview would only serve to affect the morale of Israeli soldiers, many of whom serving in Lebanon "are sons of the Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria and of its supporters".

'Drunk on victory'

In the centre-left Ha'aretz, Aluf Benn says that the prime minister "slipped up" in linking the two issues.

"Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came out yesterday from hiding from the media since the outbreak of the war in Lebanon... His message was that Israel is winning in this conflict... Olmert was drunk on his victory over [Hezbollah leader] Hassan Nasrallah while outside 200 rockets were landing on the northern communities."

When he "told the Associated Press that the war in Lebanon would give new momentum to the convergence", writes Mr Benn, "the right immediately hit back and there were threats from soldiers and officers from the settlements to refuse military service".

It is worth remembering that almost all our wars have started at a time when we thought that our enemies feared us.
Yediot Aharanot

"Olmert was forced to fold and his bureau issued a statement... that the war in the north 'has no connection to future political moves in other arenas'," the writer adds.

Criticism of Mr Olmert over another topic emerges in an editorial in the top circulation Yediot Aharonot.

It says the prime minister gave a speech to the National Security College about how Israel's Lebanon offensive had demonstrated the country's potential for "deterrence".

"It is worth remembering that almost all our wars have started at a time when we thought that our enemies feared us.

"If Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not deterred despite the fact that we are killing their men incessantly, there is no reason to assume that the fanatic organisation in the north [Hezbollah] will leave us alone. Its fanaticism comes from deep wells that we cannot dry up," the editorial concludes.

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