Split-screen syndrome

Sometimes TV broadcasts one happy image while news headlines running underneath give a different picture.

olmert facing tomor 224  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
olmert facing tomor 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It seems that every Hebrew radio and TV talk-show host lately has, out of unfortunate necessity, been prefacing interviews with: "Of course the prime minister, like every other citizen, must be presumed innocent until proven guilty." So let me adopt the habit and also stress that Ehud Olmert is innocent until proven otherwise - in all five cases being investigated (or however many it is by the time you read these lines. It's a little difficult to keep track). No wonder local political commentators have resurrected the phrase "Ke'omek hahakira, omek hanesiga" - roughly translatable as: "The deeper the investigation, the deeper the evacuation." The term was first used to describe Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan while he was subject to police inquiries and was itself a play on Yitzhak Rabin's oft-pronounced stand regarding the depth of peace and the extent of the possible withdrawal from the Golan Heights. The sarcastic comment is indicative of a peculiarly sensitive situation. Try smiling with your tongue in cheek. Olmert's legal problems do have an impact on his political decisions, just as George W. Bush's difficulties back home affect his foreign policy. For all he stressed to the Post's editor-in-chief David Horovitz that he is not looking for a Nobel Peace Prize, Bush is clearly desperate to salvage what remains of his political and diplomatic standing before leaving office at the end of the year. And while Olmert, hopefully, is not motivated solely by the desire for political survival, this has to be a major driving force as he and Bush discuss the road map and the path from Annapolis. IRONICALLY, EVERY time some major figure (or even political has-been - Jimmy Carter springs to mind) arrives in Jerusalem to discuss the road map and its even less-successful successor and other "tracks," traffic comes to a standstill. Equally strangely it sometimes seems that Bush is more popular in Israel than anywhere else, and I'm sure that the welcome Olmert receives on trips to the US warms his heart after the frosty reception of even many members of his own party at the moment, let alone the general public. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, for example - his obvious replacement were Olmert to do the decent thing and step down - has largely kept quiet (which is in her favor), and whenever she has spoken out the former justice minister has pointedly expressed her faith in the country's legal system rather than in Israel's elected leader. An image keeps popping into my mind of Bush, Olmert and the PA's Mahmoud Abbas sitting down together in a room trying to cheer each other up as they discuss their woes before discussing our future. They probably have more in common than the ordinary citizen can fathom. Life in Israel is always full of contradictions but lately it feels as if everything is being broadcast on a mammoth screen of the sort where you can watch sporting events while a subtitle informs you of a disaster elsewhere. Perhaps in this media-conscious age our leaders are not suffering so much from split personalities as split-screen syndrome. The pretty picture they are portraying is completely out of synch with what the viewers are seeing. Here was President Shimon Peres doing what he does so well - attracting high-profile guests and world leaders to a conference trying to determine the future - while the present was periodically punctuated by the booms of Kassams landing in the Negev he so professes to love. There was Egyptian envoy Omar Suleiman pushing for a "truce" with Hamas even as Israel mourned the deaths of 48-year-old Jimmy Kedoshim and 69-year-old Shuli Katz, killed in separate rocket attacks from Gaza; witnessed the dastardly attack on a shopping center in Ashkelon; and worried about the fate of abducted soldier Gilad Schalit which remains unknown after nearly two years. Peres talks of Israel having "iron patience" - but that was not the word on the bus stuck in the traffic outside his residence last week. The "man in the street," or at least the men and women chatting on the No. 13, want action against Israel's enemies, not another wishy-washy warning while Hamas and Islamic Jihad use a cease-fire to rearm, a la Hizbullah. (And at least one passenger wanted to know who was funding the presidential extravaganza - the Israeli public or foreign donors. Both possibilities are problematic, as she pointed out, especially when at least one guest at the conference - billionaire businessman Sheldon Adelson - was also questioned by police in the latest probe against Olmert.) IT'S NOT that the world leaders don't have the full picture. As Peres feted Bush in Jerusalem, TV screens split again to broadcast the news of the Ashkelon attack. The decision-makers are aware of the growing threats and increasingly complex and unfavorable situation developing just north of Israel where Iranian-Syrian proxy Hizbullah has succeeded in ousting the legitimate Lebanese regime just as surely as Hamas took over Gaza while global movers and shakers in Washington and elsewhere were busy talking to Fatah leader Abbas. But that's what "moderates" do, it seems: They talk while the extremists wage war - in this case, fighting a global jihad which just became a bit more universal as Iran seems set to have the nuclear bomb by mid-2009. Israel is now wedged between Islamist fanatics in Beirut and Gaza, which is no more comfortable than being stuck between the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea - in this case Hizbullah's Hassan Nasrallah and the Mediterranean. No wonder Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are concerned. They are obvious targets both geographically and politically, being, in the eyes of Iran and Syria, aligned with the US and Israel and non-Shi'ites to boot. And the presence of UNIFIL in Lebanon and foreign peacekeepers (let alone "observers") on the Gazan or Egyptian borders cannot allay their fears any more than all the nice words coming out of a world-class presidential gathering in Jerusalem. Peres's "Tomorrow" conference was marred as attention was diverted to the security situation when those who control Gaza sent a message of a very different kind to the one of peace being bandied about in the Israeli capital. The split screen might have been broadcasting a pretty picture to Peres's obvious delight but tomorrow, unfortunately, looks no brighter as a result.