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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Olmert trying to distract the Israeli public

Before I start this post, please allow me to inform you that the previous post was the 2000th since I started this blog on January 4 of this year.

When Richard Nixon's presidency was falling apart in 1974, he attempted to distract the American public by involving himself in foreign policy and its inherent foreign travel. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose government is crumbling around him would love to take a trip, but in many countries his arrival would prompt charges of 'war crimes' - charges that are admittedly unwarranted. So Olmert stays in Israel, and receives heads of state and foreign ministers on an almost daily basis.

Yesterday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair came calling for Olmert. Blair, who should be regarded as a hero here in Israel for standing up to his own Labour party, is on the verge of being thrown out of office due to his unstinting support for US President George Bush's war on terror and for Israel in the recent war. Blair, too, is apparently trying to distract the public from his woes.

Olmert needed to throw Blair a bone. But the bone he threw him was a bit too juicy. Olmert announced last night that he was dropping his previously stated condition to meeting with 'moderate Palestinian President' Mahmoud Abbas Abu Mazen, namely the release of kidnapped IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit. That meeting in and of itself would probably be meaningless - neither Olmert nor Mazen is in any position to do anything - both of them are too weak.

More significantly, although Blair did not demand any substantive concessions from Olmert, Olmert volunteered one. Olmert pulled the 'road map' out of the dustbin and placed it back on the table:
"I remain dedicated to advancing the political process with the Palestinians, according to the road map, in accordance with the sequence in all of its phases, starting with the implementation of the first phase, which calls for the dismantling of the terrorist organizations," Olmert said. "There can be no short cuts in implementing this process."
The problems with this statement are manifold. First, the 'road map' was off the table, and by reviving it, Olmert is accepting a document that is - particularly without the fourteen revisions demanded by Sharon and ignored by the 'quartet' - inimical to Israel's interests. Second, although Olmert will likely not be Prime Minister nine months from now, any future Prime Minister may find it difficult to ignore agreements and positions taken by Olmert. That's how Netanyahu fell into the 'Why Why Wye' trap in the first place - he said that he could not disavow the 'Oslo accords' that had been adopted by his predecessors (Rabin and Peres) and therefore he was goaded into taking them further. Third, Abu Mazen has already stated, and the rest of the world has already accepted and taken as a given, that Abu Mazen cannot will not disarm the terrorist groups because it would upset 'Palestinian unity.' Accepting the road map will likely mean accepting it with this caveat. Therefore, Olmert's agreeing to pursue the road map at this stage - especially when neither Bush nor Blair demanded it - is a serious mistake.

I could have lived with Olmert saying that he would meet with Abu Mazen at some later stage. The fact that he has agreed to do so without Gilad Shalit being released is probably inconsequential, since both Olmert and Abu Mazen are powerless, and Abu Mazen likely cannot bring about Shalit's release anyway. But agreeing to promote the 'road map' is a serious mistake that may well come back to haunt Israel in the future.

Olmert must go - the sooner the better.


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