Middle Israel: Olmert in the map room

Why the insistence on denying gravity and redrawing maps?

October 11, 2007 17:17
amotz asa el 88

amotz asa el 88. (photo credit: )


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They're poring over maps again. Here, there and well beyond the horizon, statesmen - or what passes for them these days - are once again running markers between mountains, above ravines and through cities. The markers - red, blue and pitch black, too - are used for the big bones of contention; the highlighters, a rainbow ranging from yellow and orange to green and violet, are for this forlorn wadi, that godforsaken monastery, them shallow waters where bullfrogs croak, these inaccessible cliffs where vultures nest and all else that, to them at least, is down at heel and up for grabs. Yes, occasionally they have their differences, the statesmen with the markers. Some draw their lines that close and some that far; some project multi-annual schedules, others instantaneous transitions; some care more about worship and its constraints, while others place their bets on easy money and its allure. Some are suspected villains, others convicted felons, and yet others innocent Florence Nightingales. All, however, seem to agree that a deal is feasible; that it is up to us, and that if we fail to deliver the goods at the Annapolis summit, they might go down in history as reincarnations of Golda Meir. They won't. EHUD OLMERT'S new thinking is clear. Reenergized by his spectacular survival of what he has so far wrought, and realizing that convergence - his much-heralded election gospel - has arrived where the rest of his Lebanese war's casualties have, Olmert has now opted for a new revelation. "Today's Palestinian leadership is not a terror leadership; President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayad are committed to all the agreements that were signed with Israel," said Olmert at the Knesset this week, adding that he is convinced the two Palestinian leaders "want to advance with us on a track that will lead to a change of reality." Middle Israelis agree, but they also wonder: If Abbas is opposed to terror, but at the same time seeking dialogue with Hamas even after it led a bloody coup against his own rule, then what political merit is there in his philosophical opposition to terror? And while it's enchanting that this part of the Palestinian leadership is more reasonable than others, how can one ignore the Palestinian electorate's granting Hamas so many more votes than Israelis gave Kadima? Will they really follow Abbas to a truce with their elected champions' arch-nemesis? Is there any cartography that can delete their zeal? But Olmert, himself a former super-hawk who as a backbencher in '79 refused to ratify the Camp David agreements, is a great believer in human transformation. If his once-unflinching convictions later proved so elastic, why not the Palestinians'? And since he is not in the business of convincing them - that will presumably be done by Abbas - the prime minister set out to assuage us. "What will we say if we miss the opportunity," he asked. "Forty years we are beating our chests, feeling guilty; we understood belatedly what we could have understood from the onset." Well, Middle Israelis who, unlike Olmert, never ruled out land for peace, now suspect he is as frivolous in this diplomatic adventure as he was in last year's military escapade, and before that in the political witchcraft of unilateralism. Yes, the '67 leadership's indecision vis-a-vis the territories was lamentable. However, back then the West Bank could have been relinquished to a reasonably reliable government, whether Jordanian or Palestinian. Just what Abu Mazen can deliver we already saw, first when he didn't even begin to develop the newly evacuated Gaza Strip, then when he didn't even try to execute his pompous promise to bring all Palestinian militias and weaponry under a unified command, then when he negotiated with Hamas rather than confront it, and finally when he watched impotently as Hamas slew his lieutenants in Gaza. Maybe there is some kind of a deal that can be struck to our benefit with such an under-performer, but any sober reading of the situation suggests there isn't, so why the insistence on denying gravity and redrawing maps? There are several reasons. FIRST, THERE is expediency - a consideration that has a place of honor in Olmert's value system and gambler's personality. "True," one can imagine him telling Aliza between yet more powwows with Haim Ramon and Shimon Peres, "chances are low, but what if a deal hatches and actually works? You know how big I then emerge? The improbable hero from Binyamina, old Mordechai Olmert's son untying the Arab-Israeli conflict's Gordian knot? Who knows, I might even win a Nobel." Then there is the Golda trauma. Any Israeli who lived through the Yom Kippur War - and Olmert happened to have seen its battlefields, albeit as a military journalist - will always suspect that the peace we ended up with after that catastrophe could have been obtained without it had Golda not been afraid to lift the statesmen's markers. This is surely what Olmert meant when he said, "What will we say if we miss the opportunity?" Fair enough, though most of us thought that between Oslo and Camp David "the opportunity" already has been given its chance, only to land us where we have arrived. Yet beyond the typical politician's natural opportunism and the average Israeli's traumatic reflex, there is a third factor behind Olmert's quest, of which he is doubtfully aware and which cannot be disparaged: the Zionist subconscious. In our mindsets, nothing is more disturbing than the thought that our founding fathers' grand effort to reconstruct Jewish history has arrived at an impasse, and that the incredible successes the Zionist movement registered in building from scratch a polity, an economy, a functioning society, an army, dozens of universities and scores of cities cannot apply to the conflict that has emerged as its main predicament. The thought that Arab hostility to the Zionist enterprise is even more permanent than the deserts Zionism reclaimed is bewildering for those of us who were raised in the can-do spirit of Hillel the Elder's dictum: "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?" Apparently, some of the statesmen with the markers are indeed driven neither by expediency nor by trauma, but by this inspiring if-I-am-not-for-myself spirit. Sadly, they may soon learn - the hard way - that at this stage of our history, being for us still entails being against them.

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