Was the prime minister's address on Capitol Hill interrupted by applause 38 times, as Maariv and Haaretz reported, or 41, as Yedioth Ahronoth said? Was it the "speech of his life" or his "victory lap?" Does it matter? Those who read the flood of praise heaped by a uniform chorus in the Israeli press on Ehud Olmert might think this was a historic visit that managed to significantly advance the achievement of peace in the Middle East. It was nothing of the kind.
In Washington, there was a meeting of the leaders of two countries that share, as the prime minister rightly said in his speech, "common principles and values." The United States and Israel are two of the most hated countries in the world these days. Both are responsible for brutal occupations and the bloodshed of innocents; both are fighting terrorism without regard for its reasons and true root causes; both endanger world peace and their leaders scatter slogans about peace that are empty of any content; both are surrounding themselves with walls. The only difference between them is that if there are signs in the U.S. of an awakening from the deception of the criminal war in Iraq, three years after it began; in Israel, people are still sticking to all the lies of the past about the connection between the territories and security, even 39 years after the occupation began.
The renewed alliance forged between the Israeli prime minister and the American president is an alliance of bullies, two bullies who think they are allowed what most of the world is forbidden. America and Israel can use any possible weapon to their hearts' content and at the same time threaten anyone who tries to do the same. Why? Because they are strong. Those are the real values for which Olmert won his 38 or 41 interruptions, Olmert "reached out" to Mahmoud Abbas, "a hand of peace" from Washington. Even Israel's long arm cannot make such a transatlantic crossing, from Capitol Hill to the ruins of the Muqata in Ramallah. If he really meant it, the least Olmert could have done was make the 15-minute journey to Abbas' office.
"President" Abbas, as Olmert called him for the first time in a gesture empty of meaning, has long been seeking negotiations, as the most moderate leader the Palestinians have ever had. But Olmert, and Ariel Sharon before him, repeatedly rejected Abbas' outstretched hand to peace.
Olmert has no serious intention of conducting negotiations with Abbas. He knows Abbas is a weak leader. He will meet him and then declare he is not doing enough against terror and thus, the negotiations will come to an end. On the other hand, the prime minister has no intention of taking the truly courageous step that is really required of him: not only to go to the nearby and relatively comfortable Ramallah where yesterday's leader of Palestine sits, but to hungry and suffocating Gaza, to meet the new leader of the Palestinians, Ismail Haniyeh. It's not nice in Gaza. It's crowded and threatening, even very dangerous - Olmert won't win any applause there like on Capitol Hill, but there, and only there, is it now possible to try to make peace.
For that, real courage is necessary, not the kind Americans applaud. And Olmert does not have that kind of courage. There are new voices coming from Gaza now. Haniyeh's interview to Danny Rubinstein in Haaretz, in which he spoke of peace in the 1967 borders, should have sparked a wave of positive reactions from Jerusalem, just like the "prisoners' document" that was signed in Haradim Prison. But Jerusalem's ear as usual is blocked to any sound that might advance the peace process.
Olmert sold the Americans slogans from the past: "An organization characterized by poisonous anti-Semitism - and a commitment to destroy Israel," he called Hamas, which now speaks explicitly about compromise with Israel. Olmert's hand was only outstretched to the Americans and Israelis. Only there and here do people still buy the legend that Israel wants peace and not to hold on to the occupied territories. Only in Israel and America do people still believe those who enlisted the world into besieging and starving the Palestinian people, assassinating and bombing, arresting and demolishing.
Olmert promised to start the convergence in two years. Now he's talking about evacuating no more than 40,000 settlers and resettling them in the "settlement blocs." Obviously that is not a peace plan, that's a plan to perpetuate the occupation, only under conditions more convenient for Israel. Moreover, at the end of the convergence plan, if it is ever executed, even more settlers will live in the occupied territories than live there now, in the "settlement blocs" that are no less dangerous than the handful of settlements that will be evacuated. The fact that America is not enthusiastic about Olmert's plan need not worry anyone. It will, in the end, support it. The two countries, after all, have so many "shared values and principles."
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