Eight years ago, I was promoted to the position of publisher of a magazine, and got a congratulations phone call from a friend with some excellent advice. “Sammy,” he said “First thing you have to do is come up with a plan. Remember a lousy plan always beats no plan at all.”
Unfortunately no one ever gave that advice to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert In this crucial time for Israel and its future, it is essential that the government have a plan, but Olmert doesn’t. His only goal is staying in power. Other than that, he is making it up (OK he is Screwing it up) as he goes along.
Who says that our prime minister does not have an agenda? It is true that on occasion Olmert has said that there is no need for the prime minister to have an agenda – he simply needs to do his job. It is also true that since he came into office, Olmert has adopted and discarded agendas whenever it suited him. First there was “convergence,” then victory over Hezbollah, and then Annapolis. He feels that the mantle of the man dedicated to bringing peace to Israel suits him, and that he will not let anything, no matter what, get in his way. But don’t be fooled, his real agenda is survival, no matter what the cost.
You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, Abe Lincoln said, and Olmert is taking this famous saying almost literally. He cannot, however, fool all of the people in Israel even some of the time, because too many became wise to his ways long ago. But he may have adopted George W. Bush’s jocular addition to Lincoln’s aphorism: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on.”
So who are some of the people that Olmert is concentrating on? The peace camp, of course. Those who jump to attention every time the word peace is mentioned. Those who will support any and all Israeli concession. Gaza – get rid of it! Judea and Samaria – we should have gotten out of there a long time ago! The Temple Mount – who needs it! The Golan Heights – everyone knows it belongs to Syria!
And as far as they are concerned, the concessions we should be prepared to make may not even stop there. The “they” here are the Labor Party and Meretz. And as long as Olmert succeeds in fooling them, they will support him through thick and thin. Labor from inside the government and Meretz from the outside, looking in.
But wait a minute: Is Olmert not really moving toward peace agreements that will involve all these concessions? You must be kidding. The negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas are a sham. That man controls nothing and can commit to nothing.
In fact, Abbas would not even be able to keep up the appearance of peace negotiations with Olmert were there to be an effective IDF ground operation in Gaza to put an end to the rocket attacks against Sderot, Ashkelon, and the communities in the western Negev. So, to keep up the appearances of negotiations, the people there will just have to continue to take it. What did Olmert say on his recent visit to Ashkelon – you have to get used to it. You cannot fool the people in Ashkelon, but you can fool some of the people in Tel Aviv.
As for conceding the Golan Heights to Syria, Olmert, after the disengagement tragedy, is not about to try to uproot the over 20,000 Israelis who have been living there for the past 40 years.
To those who have their doubts about the wisdom of Olmert’s policy, he produces the American card. Visits by Condoleezza Rice to Israel and Tzipi Livni to Washington give the impression that Israel really has no choice. The U.S. will not allow effective action to be taken in Gaza and the negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas must continue.
Nobody who knows the U.S. scene will be fooled by this argument. George W. Bush might welcome an Israeli-Palestinian agreement to crown the final months of his tenure as president, but he surely has the Palestinian Authority sized up. In any case he is not about to get into a confrontation with Israel at this time. That’s all he needs in addition to his other headaches. But some people want to be fooled, and some even want to be raped.
With the peace camp in tow, all Olmert needs to survive politically is Shas. He is showering them with presents they could only have dreamed of. Meanwhile, Labor and even Meretz grin and bear it. After all, this is for the sake of peace.
Who is fooling whom here? Is Shas fooling Olmert or is Olmert fooling Shas? It seems they both understand each other. Unlike the Labor Party, both sides here are shrewd politicians and have no illusions as to what is happening. Shas knows that nothing will come of the negotiations with Abbas. Olmert also knows that nothing will come of them, but in the meantime he is keeping his coalition together. Each gets what he needs, at least for the moment.
This is Olmert’s agenda. That’s all there is to it.