The Herzliya speech delivered last week by Acting Prime Minister and Kadima leader Ehud Olmert exposed an inner contradiction in the political position of the ruling party.
"The most important and dramatic [step] facing us [is] shaping the permanent borders of Israel," Olmert said. "We must create a clear border that reflects the demographic reality that has been created on the ground as soon as possible."
A few paragraphs later, he made his proposal to the Palestinians. "They can get national independence in a Palestinian state in provisional borders, even before all the complicated issues of the permanent solution are resolved."
How is it possible that the same border will be permanent on the Israeli side and "provisional" on the Palestinian side? The contradiction can be explained by politics: Olmert wants to win the elections, so he is offering the voters hope for a solution to the border problem while being stingy with the Palestinians, who aren't voting on March 28. And there's an explanation on another level of politics: No Palestinian would accept the border along the line Olmert is drawing; "Israel will keep security zones, the Jewish settlement blocs, and those places with supreme national importance for the Jewish people, starting with a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty."
Olmert's contradiction does offer faint hope to the Palestinians, who would be able to improve their positions in the transition from provisional borders to permanent ones.
This means that Kadima is not seeking a permanent agreement, but rather improved management of the conflict. It's offering to stabilize a new border that will keep the Palestinian masses out of the Israeli's sight, and bring home the settlers and soldiers from the hills of Samaria and the ravines of Judea. The withdrawal will end the status of occupation, which is unpopular in the world, and move the conflict to one of a border dispute between two sovereign countries, "who will settle their differences through negotiations," as Olmert said. Thus, Israel will be freed of disturbing international pressure and of a reputation as an oppressive occupation regime. Holding on to 10 percent of the territories will make it difficult for the Palestinians to justify terror, which they do now in a reality of settlements, checkpoints and Israeli supervision.
An experienced political person, an old acquaintance of Olmert, says the word "peace" has disappeared from the Israeli public discourse, replaced by the term "border." There's a lot to that. Peace was mentioned four times during the Herzliya speech, but only as a vague ambition, not as a practical goal. Olmert is not selling illusions of friendship and cooperation with the Palestinians. He is accepting the dispute over the Land of Israel as a fact of life, and he is seeking a way to manage it in a civilized fashion, while easing the political and security pressures on Israel.
In recent years, it has become fashionable to claim the Israeli public has "moved leftward" and nowadays supports political ideas that once belonged to the left, like a Palestinian state. But that's only part of the picture, tendentious and misleading. The truth is the public has made a pincer move: Its position regarding the border has moved leftward from "not an inch" to the fence, and its positions on the eternity of the conflict and the chances of ending it have moved to the right. The Israelis have adopted the pessimistic view of the world espoused by the right and the withdrawal from the territories promoted by the left. But the hopes from the days of Oslo, that Israel will be accepted as a wanted member and partner of the Middle Eastern community, seem further away than ever, just as many Israelis want to "toss out the settlers." That's apparently the key to understanding the Herzliya speech and the political positions of Kadima.
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