Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said many interesting things in today's Jerusalem Post interview. Most striking, however, is not a particular remark but the contrast between his (unwittingly?) rather defeatist message and the strength that he ascribes to Israel's current position in the world. Olmert described Israel's position as struggling to implement a two-state solution because the alternative is to be demographically swamped by a one-state solution. He then pointed out that even the "world that is friendly to Israel - not the world comprised of fanatics and extremists - ... speaks of Israel in terms of the '67 borders. It speaks of the division of Jerusalem. We must remember this." What about "we must change this"? Such statements seem to be an attempt to prepare Israelis to accept the unacceptable, given the poor hand Israel has been dealt. At the same time, however, Olmert says, "Bush is a giant friend of ours. ... He's not doing a single thing that I don't agree to. He doesn't support anything that I oppose. He doesn't say a thing that he thinks will make life harder for Israel." Further, Israel is enjoying "a coincidence that is almost 'the hand of God': that Bush is president of the United States, that Nicolas Sarkozy is the president of France, that Angela Merkel is the chancellor of Germany, that Gordon Brown is the prime minister of England and that the special envoy to the Middle East is Tony Blair. What possible combination could be more comfortable for the State of Israel?" Olmert's description of both the bleak situation and its silver lining are clearly brought to claim that this is the best moment to push for an Israeli-Palestinian deal. If it is, it is also a moment when Israel should be making its case strongly and unapologetically, as part of deliberate strategy to shift the diplomatic landscape in its favor. Accordingly, Israeli leaders should energetically state that: Israel wants peace. Israel has always sought peace, because real peace means an end to a century-long Arab campaign to crush Zionism and its product, the Jewish state. A Palestinian state could either mark the end of the Arab war against Israel or cause its escalation. Obviously, a terror state led by Hamas would not be a contribution to peace. Five factors determine the success of a process leading to a Palestinian state that helps creates peace rather than one that results in more war:
a regional climate in which jihadi states and their proxies have been defeated or are on the retreat
Arab recognition of Jewish national rights, rather than denying those rights and claiming the opposite: a "right" of Palestinians to move to Israel
an Arab world that is leading a normalization process with and ending incitement against Jews and Israel
a Palestinian government based on democracy and the rule of law, rather than one that needs conflict with Israel to divert attention from its own illegitimacy
an international community that recognizes that the true source of the conflict is Arab enmity for Israel, not the lack of a Palestinian state, and that demands that the Arab states start leading the weak and radicalized Palestinians toward peace with Israel.
If Olmert believes that Israel is facing Western leaders with open ears, he needs to be saying these things, countering muddled and counterproductive Western thinking. Indeed, before Annapolis, he started to, only to back down so thoroughly that he seems to have forgotten that his former red line even existed.
Before Annapolis, Olmert said "we won't hold negotiations on our existence as a Jewish state... Whoever does not accept this cannot hold any negotiations with me." In today's interview this pledge evaporated into thin air: "If you ask [Abbas] to say that he sees Israel as a Jewish state, he will not say that. But if you ask me whether in his soul he accepts Israel, as Israel defines itself, I think he does. That ... is perhaps not enough, but it is not insignificant."
Olmert does no one - not Israelis, not Palestinians, not the international community - any favors by not putting forward and standing by Israel's red lines. If our prime minister does not, who will?
And if he does not, why would any of our friends help us create a firm foundation on which peace can be built? Friendship should not just be about not being asked to do things against our national interest, but about Israel forcefully describing, and our friends listening, to the basic conditions needed for lasting peace.