ANALYSIS / A Sense of Deja Vu in Pre-election Peace Talks

Begin bombed Iraqi facility, Barak talked to PA; and Olmert, not running again, may make bold decisions.

Israeli governments have made crucial decisions on war and peace before elections, and no one challenged the legitimacy of their right to do so. Golda Meir decided not to approve a preemptive strike ahead of Yom Kippur 1973, and afterward ordered the army to fight for three weeks in an attempt to push back the Syrians and the Egyptians. Elections were to have taken place at the end of that month.

Menachem Begin ordered the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear facility on the eve of elections in 1981, and even those who charged him with "election bombing" did not argue that the decision was immoral.

Yitzhak Shamir conducted talks in Washington with the Palestinians, the Jordanians and the Syrians until close to elections in 1992. Although the process was politically controversial - the right wing left the coalition and brought down Shamir - he was not accused of a "grab."

During the Taba talks with the Palestinians at the end of Ehud Barak's term in office and the escalation of the intifada, the attorney general at that time, Elyakim Rubinstein, questioned the moral authority and reasonability of talks by a prime minister who who had resigned. However, a High Court ruling sanctioned the talks.

The issue has now come up again with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision to renew indirect talks with Syria. The last round ended in July on the day Olmert resigned. He did nothing since on the Syrian track until the Livni-led coalition talks on an alternative cabinet collapsed. A source in Olmert's bureau said there is no chance of an agreement or even a breakthrough, however: "it will take years to renew talks with the Syrians and we want to leave a living channel after us." This approach is said to be supported by the professional level in the defense establishment.

"What hypocrisy," a source in Olmert's bureau said of the objections to the talks with Syria. "Those same people who are pressuring Olmert to get Gilad Shalit back, who know the price will be the release of hundreds of prisoners with blood on their hands and strategic damage to Israel, have no problem with it - the main thing being that Olmert clears it off the desk."

The assumption that Olmert wants an achievement on the Syrian track stems from the political circumstances: Olmert is not running again and can therefore make daring decisions. He may want to try to leave behind a legacy that outstrips criminal issues and has declared his support for withdrawal.

The right finds it easy to attack the renewal of talks with Syria to present Kadima as leftist. Tzipi Livni therefore issued a statement saying she was uncomfortable with the renewal of the Syrian track, although she agreed to "maintenance talks," thus appearing middle-of-the-road.