During the latest episode of his own "Survivor" series, between an interview with police investigators and a meeting with the Palestinian president, Ehud Olmert found tall trees to hang from. In an interview with Time Magazine, the prime minister said he draws encouragement from Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi. Here are two prime ministers who were suspected of similar violations and emerged unscathed, Olmert said. They, too, he remined the interviewers, continued to deal with the affairs of state. He wanted to say, to use a well-known saying, that when there is a need for a thief, you pull him off the gallows. This is all the more true when he is only a suspect.
The prime minister's claim that he can and should carry out his duties as best as possible under the barrage of investigations is based on the assumption that he indeed tends to the affairs of state accordingly. Does he make the right decisions on existential issues of the kind few world leaders must face? Does the prime minister's performance in all that pertains to his central challenge - a final-status agreement with the Palestinians - grant him the same status his predecessor Ariel Sharon was granted as a result of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip? (Until it turned out that the unilateral aspect of that maneuver was a strategic error.) And is Olmert, in light of his performance on the Palestinian track, the right person to conduct the negotiations with the Syrians?
Israelis and Palestinians involved in the talks on borders, an issue considered to be relatively "easy," say there is a big gap between the reports on the talks' progress and the reality around the negotiating table. It seems Olmert's representatives expect Mahmoud Abbas to allocate to Israel larger pieces of territory than those Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton discussed with Yasser Arafat in 2000. This means that after seven and a half years of struggle, thousands of dead, tens of thousands injured and enormous economic losses, a weak Palestinian president is being asked to surrender principles that a powerful leader would not dare give up.
According to the progress in the negotiations with the Palestinians, police investigators will complete the Olmert case long before the prime minister signs a final-status agreement with Abbas. How is it possible to expect him to make difficult decisions such as dividing Jerusalem and recognizing some Israeli responsibility for the fate of the 1948 refugees when as prime minister he has run away from much easier decisions?
Instead of finally informing President Hosni Mubarak that he is ready to adopt the truce (tahadiyeh) and create an easier atmosphere for negotiations, Olmert is leaving that hot potato in the hands of the defense establishment. Amos Gilad (who is described by Arab diplomats as "Mr. No-No") was sent to Cairo to demand that even after Hamas stops firing Qassam rockets, Israel will still be allowed to carry out attacks in Gaza whenever the Shin Bet security service decides that some guy is a "ticking bomb." Olmert also fails to get passing marks regarding the roadblocks between Nablus and the villages in the district.
The United Nation's Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) issued a report this weekend after a study by its field officers throughout the West Bank. The report shows that of the 61 obstacles Israel declared removed last month, only five were of any significance, easening the lives of Palestinian civilians. The report also notes that during the past eight months the number of obstacles to Palestinian movement has increased - from 566 to 607. This comes in addition to preventing Palestinians from using main roads, delays at many obstacles and an increase in the number of arrests and interrogations of civilians. All this is done mostly for the convenience of several thousand settlers.
To avoid any friction with them, Olmert is leaving the decision on the separation fence's route to the Supreme Court, and with that is allowing large holes in the wall that are only inviting terrorists. On the basis of an unfounded assertion that "the Americans have agreed for us to build in the settlement blocs," instead of evacuating outposts, he expands settlements at the heart of the territories, as in Ariel and Elkana. This is the man who will sign off on the evacuation of 150,000 Israeli citizens from the West Bank and the Golan Heights? Even if his attorneys prove that he secretly gave out the money in Morris Talansky's envelopes to homeless Holocaust survivors, Olmert has not done his job. Olmert needs to go.
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