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.
- 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.