Monday, May 22, 2006

TEL AVIV — Listen for a new buzzword when Ehud Olmert arrives at the White House today for his first meeting as Israeli prime minister with President Bush: “realignment.”

After weeks of discussing and polling, Mr. Olmert and his aides have settled on that word to describe his ambitious withdrawal plan that would unilaterally dismantle dozens of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and relocate residents into three main settlement blocs.

In recent weeks, Israelis have become accustomed to hearing the plan called “convergence.” The word works well in Hebrew, but with U.S. support for the scheme considered crucial, officials have decided that a better English word was needed to sell it to the American public.

During their talks today, the two leaders are expected to discuss prospects for peace talks with the Palestinians and ways of preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.

But the Israeli prime minister will be most eager to reach an understanding with the U.S. administration on the withdrawal initiative that he outlined during the recent Israeli election campaign. The proposal to evacuate as many as 90,000 Jewish settlers and unilaterally fix a border with the Palestinians could cost as much as $10 billion.

Securing U.S. diplomatic and financial backing is seen as critical to the plan, making overseas marketing all the more crucial, officials said.

The plan has been marketed in Israel with the Hebrew word “hitkansut,” which means a coming together.

“‘Hitkansut’ sounds really good in Hebrew, but when you translate into English, it’s difficult to capture what it means,” said an Israeli government official who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.

He said government leaders debated three English words: convergence, consolidation and realignment. All were criticized as overly technical.

“People say ‘convergence’ and nobody knows what it means. You say ‘consolidation’ and it sounds like you’re consolidating before the next attack. ‘Realignment’ sounds like work on your car.”

The Israel Project, a nonprofit media advocacy group, yesterday released the results of a poll that found that 78 percent of Americans reacted positively to the “realignment” plan.

Political analysts think Mr. Olmert will have a tough time selling the scheme to the U.S. government, and particularly persuading Washington to pick up part of the cost.

As recently as yesterday, several Israeli government officials acknowledged that they had not received confirmation of which term would be used at the White House meeting.

“Realignment is a better translation of what they’re trying to accomplish,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of the Israel Project in Washington. “Realignment speaks to shifting the lines, and it’s a way to dealing with friction between the sides” while not giving up Israel’s historic claim to the land.

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