A year after the elections, it's safe to say Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's policy has gone offtrack. The most blatant expression of this is Israel's diplomatic holding action against the Palestinian national unity government. Once again, foreign statesmen who met with senior Hamas members are being boycotted, and once again we are pulling out a magnifying glass to identify these statesmen. That is the sum total of Olmert and his government's diplomatic creativity.
Olmert complains the public is turning its back on him while he is working hard to run the country. He should be reminded that leadership is not measured by the length of one's work day, but by one's ability to indicate a direction and a path, to present goals and to fulfill them. With all due respect to his diligence and knowledge of details, an effort that lacks a goal has no value. And to borrow a soccer metaphor, the best team in the world is not worth anything if it doesn't kick toward the goal.
Olmert was elected for one purpose: to guarantee a "stable and solid" Jewish majority in the State of Israel, achieved through withdrawal from most of the West Bank. "A division of the country to guarantee a Jewish majority is the lifeline of Zionism," he declared when his government was sworn in by the Knesset. "I know how difficult it is, but with all my heart I am convinced this act is essential."
Now we should ask what exactly Olmert and his government have done to fulfill this goal. In what way has his policy toward the Palestinians contributed to saving Zionism from a demographic decline that will turn the Jews into a minority in their own country?
Olmert boasts of his success in recruiting an international front against Hamas. He is paying for it with useless talks with Mahmoud Abbas and rejection of proposals to invade Gaza. The government is saying "absolutely not" to negotiations for a final status agreement, and under the cover of the diplomatic smoke screen, it continues to build the separation fence and expand the settlement blocs. When we add to that the excavations at the Mugrabi Gate, the settlers' entrance into a Hebron house and the frozen outpost evacuation, the surprise increases. It is hard to translate Olmert's decisions and deeds into a clear message the public can understand and identify with. Everything looks like a collection of tactics that fail to form a strategy.
The Israeli public, which gave Olmert and his party limited credit even in the elections, sees the confusion at the top and is reacting with disapproval in the polls. Olmert is unpopular not due to poor public relations, as he claims, but due to his lack of a compass. Israelis want to understand where he is leading them, if at all. What does he want? Has he given up the division of the country in favor of a renewed partnership with the settlers? Is Israel on the way to another war in the territories? Have the demographics changed and the threat to Zionism been removed?
The prime minister's bureau now wants more credit. Let him get through Winograd and then you'll see, they say. They say Olmert genuinely wanted to promote a diplomatic move, but Abbas betrayed him and closed a deal with Hamas. They are asking for time to formulate an alternative plan. They are whispering that Olmert's cautious policy toward the Palestinians is helping consolidate an international front against Iran. They are reminding us that Ariel Sharon spent some time in office before finding a direction and a path.
Olmert's problem is that given the failure in Lebanon and the widespread scandals and corruption among the country's leadership, it is hard for him to convince anyone he still has some cards up his sleeve. His heroic battle to save his seat may be a good script for a soap opera, but it is not a national policy. The time has come for him not to give the public excuses for what was, but to say where we are going from here. How we can promote the worthy goal of saving Zionism, which he posited when he came to power. If he has given up on it, he should say so and resign.
But if the demographic danger is still threatening Israel, Olmert must show how he will stop it in the time his government has left. If he continues to hesitate, he will go down in history as a footnote who spent time on the job between a failed war and serial investigations.
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