Olmert as oracle

The speech Olmert on Monday gave was - in tone and substance - one that Yossi Beilin could have given.

olmert breathes fire 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert breathes fire 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Ehud Olmert spoke so earnestly in favor of an Israeli withdrawal "with minor corrections" to the 1949 armistice lines, at the state memorial ceremony for Yitzhak Rabin on Monday, that the audience could be forgiven for forgetting that he was elected to implement a significant West Bank pullback - and failed. With Olmert at the helm, Kadima received 29 Knesset seats in March 2006 based on the now forgotten "convergence" platform. He promised to establish "permanent borders" after disengaging from most of the West Bank and consolidating the settler population into blocs on the Israeli side of the security barrier. It was a unilateralism intended to force statehood on the Palestinians, even in the absence of a peace agreement. Someone should tell Olmert that what distinguished Kadima as a centrist party was its opposition to the near-total pullback supported by the Left, as well as the do-nothing or dig-in policies of the Right. The speech Olmert on Monday gave was - in tone and substance - one that Yossi Beilin could have given. Kadima's new leader, Tzipi Livni, is trying to disassociate herself from Olmert's remarks. It won't be easy unless she tells Israelis explicitly where she and Olmert part company. The centrist position opposes a pullback to the 1949 armistice lines; expects the Palestinians to abandon their claim for a "right of return" to Israel proper; wants a Palestinian state to be demilitarized; and insists on retaining strategic settlement blocs. Israelis also understand that no deal is possible while Hamas controls Gaza and may be poised to take over the West Bank. CONVERGENCE was not to be. Within a month of Olmert's election, Hamas took Gilad Schalit prisoner, and Hizbullah launched the Second Lebanon War. By the time Gaza fell to Hamas in June 2007, the Kassams were smashing into Sderot and the Winograd Committee was exposing Olmert's inept handling of the war. Of course, another reason why Olmert couldn't pursue convergence was that he allowed himself to become politically impotent. For the better part of his tenure, he's been under police investigation over allegations he failed to quickly dispel - money-stuffed envelopes from a man named Morris Talansky; claims of double-dipping on travel expenses; reported conflict of interest at the Ministry of Trade and Industry; and suggestions that he bought a home for below market value in return for political favors. With all this, Olmert went to Annapolis (in November 2007) to relaunch bilateral talks with the Palestinian Authority. And he's been negotiating with Mahmoud Abbas for the past year with little to show for it. Yet, bizarrely, Olmert spoke as if he was the leader of the opposition, not the sitting prime minister. He - of all people - would speak truth to power about Judea, Samaria, the Golan Heights and Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem? He would point out that "the decision [to withdraw] has to be made now, without hesitation" and that "the moment of truth has arrived"? He would lash out against settler extremists, as if he wasn't the ultimate law enforcement authority in the land? Then, perhaps catching himself, Olmert made a new promise: "I will not let this continue." In truth, having failed to implement the centrist platform upon which he was elected, clinging futility to power despite the Winograd findings, and failing to stop spiraling lawlessness in the West Bank, he really should not presume to lecture Israelis on the need for a two-state solution. YET THE most egregious aspect of Olmert's speech was how he managed to inoculate the Palestinians from their peacemaking responsibilities. On Tuesday, the fourth anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death, PLO chairman and PA president Abbas urged the Palestinian polity to "cherish" the path of the "shahids" - Arafat, Abu Jihad (Khalil al-Wazir), George Habash and Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin. Abbas then urged Palestinians to pursue Arafat's "peace of the brave" - whatever that means post-second intifada. In his final weeks, as a caretaker prime minister, it is too late now for Olmert to do much more than talk. But instead of lecturing Israelis, he could more constructively spend the remainder of his administration demanding that the Palestinians meet Israel half-way and enable his successor to proceed toward an agreement that would give Palestinians independence and Israel abiding security.