Editor's Notes: The wrong speech

In a single address, Olmert misrepresented Israel, undermined his would-be successor, sullied Yitzhak Rabin and risibly exculpated Mahmoud Abbas.

In a single address, Olmert misrepresented Israel, undermined his would-be successor, sullied Yitzhak Rabin and risibly exculpated Mahmoud Abbas. Few brief occasions have encapsulated Ehud Olmert's mishandling of the role of prime minister as thoroughly as his appearance at the Mount Herzl event on Monday marking 13 years since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Displaying the same arrogance that saw him lead the nation into a war without pausing to ascertain whether we were capable of effectively fighting it, the prime minister presumed to lecture this nation as regards our best interests, from the graveside of a former prime minister who lived, breathed, fought and died for it. With Yad Vashem to one side of him, and rows of soldiers' graves to the other, the man who placed our vulnerability on display in the conflict with Hizbullah, and proved unable to achieve the separation from the Palestinians for which we elected him, presumed to warn us against "waiting unnecessarily to make a decision" on a viable two-state solution and told us not to "drag our feet." He spoke with the tone and content of an embittered and marginalized prophet, terrified by the stiff-necked Israeli people's refusal to pay heed to his inspired warnings. He spoke, indeed, as though he were anyone but the man who has run this country for almost three years and was thus more able than any other Israeli to steer it toward its most cherished goals. "The moment of truth has come," he cautioned us in his enlightened despair. "If we are determined to preserve the Jewish and democratic character of the State of Israel," he declaimed, "we must inevitably relinquish, with great pain, parts of our homeland, of which we dreamed and for which we yearned and prayed for generations... We must return to our familiar places, in the Galilee and the Negev, build them and realize the tremendous potential embodied in the unbounded energies of our people..." As anyone but Olmert would acknowledge, the Israeli mainsteam is well aware of these imperatives. Indeed, he has been the principal beneficiary of that national awareness. We have not been waiting unnecessarily or dragging our feet. The people whom he had the hubris to lecture on Tuesday elected him almost three years ago to carry out a promised platform of separation or accommodation or "convergence" (to use the long forgotten euphemism). The electorate recognized that the three ideals shared by Jewish Israelis - of an overwhelmingly Jewish Israel, controlling the full historical land, while maintaining its democratic nature - are mutually exclusive. And rather than risk the loss of either our predominant Jewish character or our democracy, it chose him, just as it chose Rabin 16 years ago, to oversee the "painful" separation from the Palestinians of which he spoke. It is not Israel that needs to recognize the urgency of the hour, the "moment of truth." It is not, as Olmert implied, that Israel has failed him and itself. It is, rather, that Olmert and, especially, the intransigent Palestinian leadership, have failed us. WHILE OLMERT addressed the nation as the voice of frustrated impotence - and made many of the same points in a similar speech later the same day in the Knesset - he was in fact uniquely capable, as our first among equals, of trying to formulate the terms for an accommodation. He was uniquely capable, as our first among equals, of tackling the misallocation of resources that, as he lamented, leave the Galilee and the Negev under-resourced and under-prioritized. He was uniquely capable, as our first among equals, of confronting the extremist fringe of the settlement enterprise and honoring his pledge to dismantle illegal outposts. Such steps might, just might, have bolstered Israel's credibility and eased the process toward an accommodation. And finally, the man who lectured us on Monday about the dangers that lie in wait if we "refuse to look at reality" and "turn our heads" away from uncomfortable truths was uniquely capable, as our first among equals, of overseeing the vexed but vital process of staking out Israel's territorial red lines, insistently explaining them to the domestic public, and disseminating them at every international forum. Through the faults of others as well as his own, he achieved none of this. OVER MONTH after month of negotiation with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he sought an accord with apparently mounting flexibility. Ultimately, he indicated a readiness to make territorial concessions far greater than those envisaged by the man whose mantle he sought to share on Monday, and far beyond the red lines that a consensual Israeli consultative process would have formulated. And yet, on Monday, there was no acknowledgement of his failure to seal the deal. Strikingly, there was also no mention of Abbas's predominant culpability in that failure. Our presumed peace partner, offered all or almost all of the territory he seeks - by a prime minister who, on the basis of Monday's speech, surely made plain in their face-to-face talks the willingness he now publicly espouses to also "relinquish Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem" - simply said no. Humiliatingly rebuffed, the prime minister might have been expected to denounce such intransigence. He might have been expected to wonder publicly whether Abbas is any more serious than was his unlamented predecessor about reaching viable terms. He might have been expected to urge the international community to encourage Abbas to reconsider, for the good of our people and his own. But no. On Monday the prime minister pointed the finger of blame at an electorate that had chosen him to try to reach an accommodation, rather than at the "partner" who rejected it. In so doing, he both excused Abbas's intransigence and tacitly encouraged the international community to press Israel for concessions beyond the 100 percent Olmert has essentially conceded. This is not only a case of egregiously misdirected criticism. It is an invitation to the watching world to blame Israel for a failure that is not ours and seek to extract a consequent additional price - an invitation to literally further squeeze Israel that has been issued, staggeringly, by our own prime minister. In his aggrieved polemic, furthermore, Olmert bitterly undermined the prospects of his Kadima would-be successor to win election and thus to achieve the very accord he prescribes. The prime minister of Israel publicly urged his people to return to the pre-1967 borders, with a minimal expansion of sovereignty in the West Bank, in a blueprint far to the left of his own Kadima, not to mention the Labor Party. Leaving aside the fact that his own stated readiness to make those concessions still did not produce an agreement, did he expect that this public positioning might help Tzipi Livni win enough votes to make another negotiating foray? Surely it could only increase misgivings about whether Kadima can be trusted to stick to the consensual national interest. And in so doing, it can only push the Israeli electorate closer to the rightist camp where Olmert once belonged and which he now so derides. OLMERT ON Monday, then, misportrayed the challenge Israel faces in terms that push a solution further away, undermined his would-be successor and sullied his own electorate. In his choice of venue, he also politicized a day of national mourning. Not only was his the wrong speech, it was also delivered in the wrong place. And purporting to speak in Rabin's name, he misrepresented Rabin, too. Yitzhak Rabin, I suspect, would not have compromised his prime ministerial tenure and what Olmert rightly called "the narrow window of opportunity" by embarking on an inadequately weighed military adventure. A chief of General Staff who notably did not crow in victory at the end of the Six Day War, the cautious, detail-obsessed Rabin would not have been so unconscionably lax in preparing to send our irreplaceable young fighters into battle. And Yitzhak Rabin did not allow the unique privilege of the prime ministership to be compromised by lingering corruption allegations. In 1977, he stepped down from that position amid accusations of financial wrongdoing that are dwarfed by the allegations that Olmert has been unable to dispel. Nobody, not even Ehud Olmert, can know to what lengths Yitzhak Rabin might have gone in an effort to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians - the understanding which he, too, was elected to seek and which he, too, saw as an Israeli imperative. But Yitzhak Rabin, perhaps too brusquely, would have confronted whatever forces he deemed necessary - at home and beyond - to pave the way to such an accord. And were failure to result, he would likely have accepted such blame as was his, and accurately allocated such blame as was others'. WHAT OLMERT should have said is that the Israeli public entrusted him with the task of seeking an accommodation with the Palestinians and that he failed, in part because of his own decisions and actions but in still greater part because of the abiding Palestinian incapacity to genuinely internalize Israel's legitimacy. He praised Rabin for his courage in seeking peace and security for our beloved country, but he should also have praised the electorate for clinging to that aspiration even as it displays heroic resilience when faced by enemy hostility. And he should have urged the international community, and especially the Arab world, to embrace moderation and reconciliation in the spirit of Yitzhak Rabin.