Analysis: PM's apology restores internal ceasefire

The urgent phone call that the prime minister made on Wednesday night to MK Effie Eitam is as close to an apology as is humanly possible for Ehud Olmert. He realized that he had made a serious mistake in his interview with the foreign news services in which he said that the successful outcome of the war would create "new momentum" for his realignment plan. With one careless remark, in what was supposed to be an interview for foreign consumption, Olmert of all people became the first mainstream politician to endanger the political consensus of the last four weeks. If the height of warfare could be considered bad timing for raising the scepter of further removing settlements, doing so on the eve of the first anniversary of disengagement only compounded the error. In the circumstances, the immediate chorus of criticism from the Right, and the renewed threats of settler reservists, not to obey their call-up orders for what had suddenly become the "War of Olmert's Realignment" was only to be expected. Olmert quickly realized that he had to fix this faux pas. The decision to call Eitam, out of all right-wing MKs, was of course not coincidental. Eitam's son is currently fighting in Lebanon as a deputy company commander in Golani's Battalion 51, the unit that lost eight of its soldiers in Bint Jbail last week. Olmert's secretaries desperately tried to locate Eitam's whereabouts, but he was at his synagogue, reciting Megillat Eicha at the start of Tisha Be'av fast. When he was finally located, this gave Olmert his opening when he stressed that on the day "when Am Yisrael is united in the remembrance of the destruction of the Temple, there is a need to preserve the full unity of the army and the home front in order to succeed in this difficult war." Olmert promised that he was doing nothing now besides directing the fighting in the North and South and Eitam magnanimously let him off the hook, saying later: "He made a big mistake and I helped him realize its consequences. His clarification doesn't take away the concerns in the future but we'll conduct those arguments after the war." But Olmert's words weren't spoken in a vacuum and when coupled with more outright statements by his loyalists, ministers Roni Bar-On and Haim Ramon, he is far from giving up on the plan that was his central election platform and Kadima's entire raison d'etre. How quickly we forget, but only five works ago the IDF was preparing to dismantle four hard-core outpost settlements, in a step that was supposed to be the hor d'oeuvres of realignment. Less than a week before the bulldozers were slated to roll, Hamas captured Cpl. Gilad Shalit and the descent to total war began. The renewed warfare was quickly used by right-wing politicians as proof that disengagement and other pullbacks just don't work and only encourage the terrorists to be even more daring. Recent opinion polls show that this argument strikes a chord with the public and support for Olmert's master plan is at an all-time low. None of this means that Olmert is going to give up on it. This is a tricky time for both sides. Olmert is hoping that a successful conclusion to the war in Lebanon will bolster his reputation as a national leader and will give him the necessary credentials to push through realignment. To earn that image, among other things, he can't afford to show any sign of partisanship and therefore will say not another word on the subject while even one IDF soldier is still across the border. But the right-wing politicians also aren't going to make too much noise now and certainly not try to extract any promises from Olmert in exchange for their continued support on the war. They realize that any talk now of refusing to obey orders when the whole country is mobilized against Hizbullah will further estrange them from the Israeli mainstream. Instead they prefer to rack up credit in the form of the sacrifices their children are making, as the settlers have so far had a totally disproportionate share of the soldiers fighting and getting killed in Lebanon. When the time comes, there will be an accounting, and Olmert will be asked how dare he demolish the homes of those who gave their lives. Olmert's apology might have succeeded in prolonging the internal cease-fire on the Israeli political scene but it's already clear that it will end the moment there is a cease-fire on the northern border.