Analysis: Olmert's message to US stresses new 'opportunity'

The sky has not fallen - the developments are a golden opportunity.

Olmert 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Olmert 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Last week, a day after Hamas easily overran Fatah and turned the Gaza Strip into Hamastan, the message coming from the Prime Minister's Office was that the sky had not fallen, and that the developments - which on the face of it seemed like an unmitigated disaster for Israel - were actually a golden opportunity. The message from the Prime Minister's Office was to forget the Yediot Aharonot headline from Friday - "Iran five minutes from Ashkelon" - and rather stress instead that there was now actually the possibility of creating Switzerland five minutes from Jerusalem. "I think that what happened lately was also an opportunity," Olmert told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Sunday evening, framing this new theme. "We will cooperate with this government," Olmert said. "We will defreeze monies that we kept under our control because we didn't want these monies to be taken by Hamas to be used as part of a terrorist action. And we will do what we can to upgrade the quality of life [in the West Bank]." He said that in the new circumstances Israel could "perhaps take more risks than in the past. The purpose is to project to the Palestinians that when they are ready to refrain from terrorism, there is a genuine chance for a different life for them and us." That was the overall theme, but in diplomacy, the devil is in the nuances, and in his speech to the President's Conference Olmert introduced a couple of new themes that are likely to become set points in remarks on the new situation. The first has to do with blame. Perhaps cognizant of murmurs of some in Washington that Israel bears some responsibility for the situation in Gaza because it did not "take enough bold moves" to strengthen Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, or perhaps mindful of critics in Israel saying that none of this would have happened had Israel not disengaged from Gaza, Olmert said that this was not a time to dwell on the past, but rather to look forward to the future. "There is a natural tendency to talk about who did the right thing, and who did the wrong thing," Olmert said. "Who had a consistent policy, and who zigzagged. We are not interested in that. We are trying to look to see how it can be used for an opportunity in the future, rather than to invest our energies in making an analysis of who is responsible for what is taking place." This theme appeared at another point in Olmert's 45-minute address, which he delivered without any notes. "The state of mind that is taking over in Israel is not to look for excuses, but rather to find ways to establish the necessary foundations for a real and genuine movement forward." Another theme had to do with Palestinian internecine violence. Just as he did during his meeting on Sunday with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Olmert emphasized in his speech the brutality of the violence evidence last week in Gaza. One was left almost with the sense that he was saying that while the world had become used to Palestinian atrocities against Jews, maybe this new violence would better show the inhumanity Israel has come up against. Olmert said that he recognized that at a certain point in time Israel would have to respond to Hamas attacks on Israel, and that when this happens there will be many in the world who will "tend to ignore what happened lately, and to forget the terrible pictures of brutality, hatefulness and violence, pictures of people dropped from the 15th floor to the ground by Palestinians, and people shot in their knees in order to cripple them for the rest of their lives, and families butchered in their homes by Palestinians. I believe that the majority of sincere honest observers in the world won't be able to forget these pictures." Even when discussing Syria, and Damascus's refusal to kick the terrorist headquarters out of the country, Olmert talked not about the organizations' terrorism against Israel but rather the atrocities these organizations are responsible for against other Palestinians. The hard reality of the situation with Syria, he said, is that "it hosts the terrorist headquarters of organizations which are perpetuating the atrocities in Gaza and other parts of the Middle East." This new message seemed to be that if the terrorism against Jews didn't move the world to press Damascus to get rid of the terrorist organizations in its midst - perhaps because the world has become used to terror against Jews and sees it as part of the game in this part of the world - maybe Hamas's brutality against fellow Palestinians would do the trick.