Monday, November 03, 2008

Olmert alive and kicking

Strangely enough, Ehud Olmert became Israel’s strongest politician this past week
Attila Somfalvi

Part 1 of analysis by Attila Somfalvi

Here’s an Israeli paradox for you: On a week where the decision is taken to dissolve the Knesset and bring forward the elections, the outgoing prime minister – usually referred to as a lame duck at this time – becomes the country’s strongest politician. And he already feels that way: In the coming months, there’s almost nothing that can oust him – even not an indictment, apparently. I already resigned, he will say, what else do you want from me? Regardless of what people do to him or say about him, Olmert is sticking around. For the time being In the time he still has left at the Prime Minister’s Office and in power, he does not intend to waste a moment and is determined to achieve as much as is possible. The negotiations with the Palestinians are at the top of his agenda. The prime minister wants to conclude the talks in the coming months, and present an agreement. Yes, a final-status agreement where Mahmoud Abbas pledges to put an end to the conflict and to mutual demands. Olmert fears that it’s now or never. We have to sign a deal.

However, Olmert knows that the Palestinian president still needs a push. He wants all the territory he can get. Professional “peace people” who have lived and breathed the negotiations over the years told Olmert that he went as far as possible – now it all depends on the Palestinians, who anxiously look at the storming Israeli political establishment, while waiting. They are scared to sign, as it isn’t clear who will succeed Olmert as their partner.

However, the prime minister believes that now is the time, and that the window of opportunity is about to close shut. If the Palestinians fail to move and the Israelis fail to realize that we must not waste any time, it will end badly. In Olmert’s view, we now have a one-time opportunity to determine the borders of the state and reinforce them via a document signed by a Palestinian leader.

Olmert also thinks that talks with the Syrians should be accelerated. They want to talk, and he’s willing to be the partner. After so many years, he feels that Damascus truly wants to advance. The price is clear: peace will include a withdrawal from the Golan. Olmert knows this, but it doesn’t scare him. In his view, the geopolitical reality has dramatically changed.

The prime minister is still fuming when he is being accused of attempting to push the IDF into a ground incursion in Gaza. He happens to remember that he dismissed the army and its plans out of hand. He also recalls that during the Second Lebanon War he objected to the ground operation, for fear that hundreds of soldiers would die – while missiles keep on being fired at Israel.

Overall, Olmert believes that most politicians completely fail to grasp the modern battlefield; he feels that he comprehended it first, when he discovered that tanks do not bring victory.

Part 2 of analysis to be published Sunday evening: What does Olmert really think about Bibi and Barak?

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