It would not be Israeli civilization as we know it if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had done the obvious and met with Mahmoud Abbas right after his government was approved by the Knesset. But since the self-evident is precisely what occurs to nobody on our side, Olmert did not depart an inch from the paths of his predecessors: Upon taking office, he leaped into action and immediately flew to Bush, Blair, Chirac, Mubarak and Abdullah. In short, to every leader in the world except the Palestinian president - in order to explain to them why conditions are not ripe right now for talking with the Palestinians without preconditions. Only with evident unwillingness did Olmert manage not to avoid a semi-meeting with Abbas this week, and that only out of respect for King Abdullah - and besides, it was "a meeting for etiquette's sake," as sources on our side made sure to explain.
If that sounds familiar, it is because the Israeli planet is revolving on the same rusty axis as always, as if there has been no election - as is usual after every election. At least at the beginning of his term, every new prime minister immediately reverts to the failed default behavior of his predecessor, and regards it as "perfect behavior." Like them, the new premier will always start by flexing a military muscle; after all, the war option is always the most readily available default. The only easier default is sending money to the settlements.
Thus elections or not, the assassinations and the regrettable misses are resumed in all their glory, with all the usual self-righteousness and self-congratulation about our "purity of arms" and demands for exclusivity in the feeling of being the victim, while the inertia of "settlement" continues to plug along in secret like an uncontrollable tic.
As for Olmert, within two months, he has managed to fill the entire quota of cliches that his predecessors needed full terms to produce. He has managed to declare that "the Israel Defense Forces is the most moral army in the world," without checking or confirming, just saying it, as one of the habits of a prime minister. He has already demanded that "all the Jews immigrate to Israel" (to where? Sderot?) All that is missing is for him to say that Sderot residents "aren't nice," or that "we will never forgive the Arabs for making us kill them," and we would immediately be able to identify the syndrome that has attacked every new Israeli prime minister since Golda Meir: It is the horrific "Golda Syndrome."
Of course, it is premature to judge Olmert as a prime minister, but it is never too early to warn him of the horrors of this syndrome, whose symptoms are clear and unequivocal. The most outstanding of them are: arrogance toward and patronization of the Middle Eastern environment; an uncontrollable urge to be didactic; a blind spot that makes a Palestinian political presence completely invisible; and primarily endless self-righteousness, which sees everything in black and white - we are always right, the evil is entirely our enemy's, and everything is a justification for maintaining the status quo.
So virulent is this syndrome that even bold premiers, who began their terms with revolutionary and vigorous spirits, cannot fight it off. Nearly all turn into Goldas shortly after the start of their terms and find it difficult to escape the mold. Most waste the first two-thirds of their terms in arrogant and comfortable glibness, full of self-satisfaction and prejudice, out of the conviction that there is nothing to do and nobody to talk to and "we have no alternative" other than the one offered by the army's chief of staff. The last third of their terms they spend in jerky, spasmodic motion, suddenly enlightened and desperately trying to do something historic and bold. But by then, they have run out of steam, and the term comes to an end.
Will Olmert be saved from the syndrome? As a prophylactic measure, one can advise him to try to turn the conventional Israeli timetable upside down. That could be a truly revolutionary change: to try enlightenment, change and a sense of urgency at the beginning of the term, and comfort, pretension and glibness only at its end.
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