The missing agenda

If Olmert wants to find it, he'll need to take a transcendental leap into real leadership.

Olmert concerned 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert concerned 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
It has been reported that the chief of staff of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office, and his chief political adviser, have been instructed to find an agenda for the upcoming trilateral summit meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. While these two gentlemen are searching for an agenda for the meeting, perhaps they should spend some time finding an agenda for the government as well. In order for Prime Minister Olmert to survive politically, he should get out of the "survival mode" and get into the business of leading. In Israel 2007, leading means having vision and knowing how to translate it into reality. The government of Israel has no vision and no direction beyond political survival. In the dearth of any political horizons and because the government has failed to transmit any sense of hope to the Israeli people, we have recently been exposed to a variety of politicians who see themselves as potential leaders busy presenting all kinds of new peace plans and ideas. It is really quite ironic that politicians are competing on the domestic scene by presenting ideas for advancing peace. This bazaar phenomenon occurs not because we have so many peace-loving activists among our politicians, but because these politicians know that the people of Israel are fed up with the current reality and want to believe and hope for a future of peace. Because Ehud Olmert is not an ideological prime minister but the ultimate pragmatist, perhaps he has the ability to take a transcendental leap into real leadership and to take steps that would trigger the creation of an entirely new environment. In the current reality of continuing deterioration of relations with the Palestinians, and a continuing diminishing image of Israel's national strength (which may be more than just image), demonstrated by the failure to win a war which should have never been initiated in the first place, there is a real need to implement a policy which could actually change reality. There is no need for another "maintenance visit" by Rice. Unfortunately we also know that there is no reason to delude ourselves that she will propose that Olmert and Abbas actually begin to address the real issues in the conflict. The expectations for the upcoming trilateral summit should be kept low in order to preempt even more disappointment. IT SHOULD be clear that the US administration under George W. Bush is not going to change its policies in its last two years in office. There were hopes that Bush would adopt some of the good recommendations from the Baker-Hamilton report, specifically those dealing with the Israeli-Arab conflict. But if Bush's good friend Jim Baker cannot convince him, we should understand that the Bush administration is an obstacle to Israeli-Arab peace. The best thing Rice could offer at this time is to step aside and allow for other initiatives to move forward. If there is any success, the US can join in at a later stage. If Olmert is serious about wanting to lead, than he must get serious about finding a peace agenda and then implementing it. We don't need words and spin doctors, we need action. We need "triggering events" that have the power to create a new mind-set and a new environment that would allow the Israeli and Palestinian people to once again believe that peace is possible. The main obstacles are not wide gaps between the sides on the main issues in conflict - most Israelis and most Palestinians agree on the main elements of possible agreements. The main obstacle is the lack of a process to get us there, mainly because of the past six years of violence and destruction that has wiped out hope. THE SADAT visit to Israel was a triggering event. The Rabin-Arafat handshake was another. Triggering events change reality, and that is what we need. There are triggering events that set processes in motion and are powerful because they are unconditional and do not have to be interdependent. Olmert could immediately change the reality of life in the occupied territories - he could order and really enforce the removal of hundreds of roadblocks, checkpoints, and obstacles throughout the West Bank that turn the lives of millions of people into a daily hell. The government could decide to implement its own decisions and enforce the aw vis- -vis the settlers and actually remove all unauthorized (illegal) outposts in the West Bank. It could also pass a law that would enable settlers in the West Bank who wish to return to Israel to receive compensation for their homes even before Israel withdraws from the territory. With 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, most under administrative detention (arrested without charge and imprisoned without trial), the government could release hundreds of them. Olmert could order the extension to the West Bank of the Gaza cease-fire, which, even though not observed 100%, has significantly lessened Kassam rockets being shot into Israel. MAHMOUD ABBAS could also announce and implement a whole series of steps that would serve as a triggering event for Israelis. These too would be independent of whatever Israel does or doesn't do. The steps are aimed at changing reality. Abbas must finalize the creation of a national unity government to demonstrate leadership. He must bring about the immediate release of Gilad Shalit. He and his forces must create law and order, particularly in Gaza. Abbas must devote real effort to finding and destroying the Rafah tunnels used for smuggling. He could once again deal with the issue of the daily Kassam rockets shot into Israel. Abbas must continue to address and deal with the issue of incitement and hate in schools and in the media. Both leaders should also consider steps beyond those suggested above. The best initiative for moving back into a genuine peace process is the Arab League peace initiative that offers land for peace and normalization with 22 Arab states. Supported unanimously by the Arab League twice in the past four years, this initiative offers comprehensive peace with all our neighbors. If Olmert was a real leader he would invite Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa to come to Israel and speak in the Knesset to the people of Israel in order to present the Arab initiative directly to them. Abbas should do the same in Palestine. A trilateral summit between Olmert, Abbas and Moussa would be a lot more substantial in this context than another agenda-less Rice visit. There is a genuine peace agenda floating around searching for genuine leadership - it is time to bring the two together. The writer is Co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.