Olmert’s late-term epiphany on Iran and Palestine

It was not quite Saul the tax-collector on the road to Damascus but it was almost like that. Ehud Olmert, still nominally in office as Israel’s PM but leaving very soon, told Yediot Aharonot that:

    1. Israel would have to leave all or nearly all the occupied territories to win a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and would have to give territorial compensation on a one-for-one basis for any land it kept.
    2. The withdrawal would also have to include just about all of East Jerusalem, though with “special solutions” for the holy sites; and
    3. Israeli threats to attack Iran represent “megalomania” and a loss of “sense of proportion” about its own power.

These positions all sound like ideological bombshells, especially for someone who grew up and spent most of his life in rightwing nationalist parties.
In Haaretz today, Aluf Benn dismisses Olmert’s statement as “too little, too late.” Personally, I don’t think it’s too little. I think on every point he showed real insight and courage. (Except perhaps when he said Syria would have to cut all its ties to Iran, Hamas, and Hizbullah as part of a peace agreement.)
But to say the things he said about Israel’s “megalomania” regarding its own powers and its ability to deal with the Iranian challenge alone? That was even more significant than what he said about the peace process with the Palestinians.
Here in the US, there are numerous people in the Jewish community who are doveish on the peace process but very hawkish on Iran. I wish they could say things about Israel and Iran similar to what Olmert said.
Benn was quite right in noting that, if Olmert sincerely holds the beliefs that he now– right at the end of a 30-month term as PM– espouses, and if he has held them for a whole now (which is a reasonable assumption)… then why did he take so many decisions and actions while he was in power that undermined the policies he now espouses?
Especially regarding the implantation of additional tens of thousands of new Israeli settlers into the West Bank.
Benn writes:

    Sharon … was the only leader willing to stand up to the settlers and evacuate them from their homes. Actions, not words. Olmert is a hero in a newspaper interview, but in reality has been a marionette of the settlers just like the leaders who preceded him.

By the way, Benn notes– as the NYT account linked to above does not– that in the interview Olmert also strongly opposed a new IDF incursion into Gaza.
… Anyway, it is now ways too late for Olmert to have any hope of implementing the kind of policy toward the Palestinians that he describes in the interview. His successor has already been chosen: Tzipi Livni. And Israel is in an inter-regnum period that may last some months as she works to assemble her new governing coalition.
But during the inter-regnum, Olmert does remain in power. It is significantly reassuring to me that for the few months ahead the reins of power in Israel are held by someone who looks prepared to withstand the kinds of pressures that others might put on him, to launch an Israeli military strike against Iran.
But as Aluf Benn says, it’s actions not words that count. So let’s hope that Olmert sticks to– and continues to argue in public for– the policy of restraint toward Iran that his recent words represented.

14 thoughts on “Olmert’s late-term epiphany on Iran and Palestine”

  1. Yes, we need to give Olmert credit. His behavior contrasts starkly with Bill Clinton, who signed the CFTC as his last act in office, thereby opening the Enron loophole, enabling the California electricity crisis and the rampant energy speculation we have seen this year. What possessed the man to grace the American public with that booby trap?
    When was the last time a retiring or retired American President had an epiphany? The closest we have is Al Gore on global warming and Jimmy Carter’s peace activism.
    I’ve long wondered why former American Presidents cannot become a moral conscience for the nation. Why can’t they talk about the nefarious influence of the military-media-oil complex? Wall Street? Big Pharma? AIPAC? The gun lobby? Why is maintaining the approval of powerful interest groups more important than using the experience to create a noble legacy by revealing the true workings of the system?
    “Yes I was constrained by powerful special interests while I was President, but here’s is what is really happening.” Apparently, most politicians have drunk the kool aid for so long that it has addled their brains permanently.

  2. Helena, can you give us your take on McCain’s “League of Democracies” that he was touting at the debate? It sounds ridiculous on the face of it, when we already have a UN, warts and all. Forming a whole new framework while neglecting other institutions already in place seems like it would put the kabash on diplomacy that needs to happen NOW. But then, McCain’s not big on diplomacy, is he?
    His remark has gone largely uncommented on.

  3. Israel would have to leave all or nearly all the occupied territories
    This long standing issue for more than 50 years now.
    This call will face deaf ears as usual and as we saw from our Israelis /Zionist commentators here.
    There is no such believes these are occupied land they believe these land to secure their Zionist states (not Jewish State as they call it).
    This just like some one lost in desert and looking for water till he dies or a miracle will happen to him to be survived.
    The miracle is Arab will come and united to defeat this state that’s why all the time seeing the there is war each 7-10 years, invasion of Iraq indirectly eliminated one nation that was follow the right way of independence and power, more over spread the sectarian differences as was seeing today in many Arab nation all these just to keep them weak without goal for been developed in the way other nation followed in the past despite the large richness in money and human kind.
    Let Helena keep dreaming with Israel’s PM, told Yediot Aharonot words….
    Helena, what taken by force will returned by force look to history , Iran have occupied Three Gulf Islands, Iraq Occupied by your empire, Somalia and other and other the force will keep the red lines save from the greedy and criminals wishes.

  4. Salah, “The miracle is Arab will come and united to defeat this state…” Really? You must be kidding. There is no realistic military option for the Arabs against Israel. Whether you’re a Zionist or anti-Zionist, this is reality.

  5. There may be “no realistic military option for the Arabs against Israel” at the moment. But there is no longer a realistic military option for Israel against the Arabs. Hezbollah stymied Israel’s invasion two years ago. The next Israeli attempt to trash the neighborhood will result in a significant amount of damage to Israel itself by Arab rockets. Hegemonistic Zionism is already dead, though Israeli leaders prefer to act as if it is not so.
    The question is: can Israel we know continue to exist if it cannot wantonly bully its neighbors? If so, it will have to be a very different kind of state. Either it will turn its vast store of arms upon itself, or it will sue for peace and leave the Occupied Territories.
    Israel is facing a critical choice–become a fascist state or an enlightened one.

  6. John H is correct: the position of Israel cannot improve from what it is currently. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are all, effectively neutralised. Each of these three powers is run by a comprador caste whose grip on power slips with each passing day.
    There is no future for their policies of holding down the populace on behalf of the American Empire. Like the Shah’s these regimes are increasingly dependent upon secret policemen, spies and the pouring of oil money on troubled waters. Tick-tock..
    Lebanon is breaking against the USA: vast amounts of effort(largely misguided) thuggery, propaganda and money have led to the US influence being marginalised in small groups of salafi terrorists besides whom the Taliban appear urbane, sophisticated and broadminded.
    Syria can no longer be suborned. Whether the chance was there in recent years is debatable but Syria is not now ready to sacrifice everything for The Golan Heights. It seems that Israel’s negotiators are always ready to concede what has long since been taken for granted: “Never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
    Olmert’s valedictory has this quality: the cession of the West Bank and Gaza’s territorial equivalence might have seemed saleable a few years ago. Now it is simply not close to being enough. The Israeli/US axis has done its worst and the dream of Palestine is still intact. Years of terror conducted against the people have not intimidated them. Years of assassination, detention, torture and humiliation have taught the Palestinians thet they can rely only on themselves and each other. Every attempt to weaken them has made them stronger: this is the nature of resistance and the folly of tyranny. There is nothing new except the constant re-discovery, by those too arrogant to think, that oppression cannot endure. Injustice will not last. The walls will come down. The right of return will be won.
    And US influence, having had the opportunity to show the world what it would do if it had the power to enforce its will, will diminish. It had a chance and abused it.

  7. Do we have to observe an official waiting period first, or can we say that Olmert, like Sharon, is ‘self-hating’?

  8. How very convenient for Olmert to suddenly “see the light”. Too bad for millions of Lebanese, and too bad for millions of Palestinians that he waited until he was forced to leave ofice in disgrace before singing Amazing Grace at the top of his voice.
    Sorry, but where is the great courage in making such a declaration now? Where was this great enlightened leader in the summer of 2006? And where was he while Israel was horrifically collectively punishing the Palestinians for exercising their right to select their own leadership? And where was he while Israel stepped up its plunder of Palestinian land, and tightening of the strangulating matrix of control (Jeff Halper’s term)? Oh wait – isn’t Olmert’s military still violating Lebanese territory and airspace on a nearly daily basis? Has the collective punishment of the Palestinians – especially in Gaza – stopped? And did Olmert suddenly order a halt to the land plunder, and the building of the wall, and the continued colonizing of the land? Hmmmm – odd that I have not noticed if he did.
    I am not even remotely impressed. Actions speak louder than words indeed, and his actions continue to be the direct antithesis of his recently enlightened words.

  9. Helena – Not that it bears on the point of your post, but I’ve never heard of Saul characterized as a tax-collector but only as a tent-maker. I gather you have heard differently?

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