Following the path of Sharon's sins
Only an end to the state of war with the Arab states will turn Olmert from a dismal, marginal footnote in the state's history into a great leader.
When Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's drawers are bursting with files investigating the prime minister, and a state comptroller report follows a committee of inquiry report, Ehud Olmert's pledge to "continue Sharon's path" becomes somewhat ironic. The most obvious similarity to Sharon lies in the Greek island affair, which was closed in a dubious manner, the campaign finance affair, which resulted in the conviction of Sharon's son, and the culture of political appointments.
The policy of unilateral disengagement from Palestinian territory, a policy that shielded Sharon from the skeletons in his closet and became Kadima's diplomatic platform, has faded into oblivion. Olmert long ago shelved the unilateral convergence plan for the West Bank. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has even expressed public regret for what she called "the throwing of Gaza's keys into the street." Along the same one-way street, which has been revealed at best to lead nowhere, they have offered a "diplomatic horizon." That is to say, a dead end. For it is well-known that a horizon has a way of moving further away as you get closer. The government is fighting the Mecca agreement, which was designed to allow the Palestinian Authority unity government to authorize PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to conduct negotiations on a final-status accord. Instead of talking to Syria and Lebanon on a peace agreement, the government is preparing the public for another war in the North. Essentially, the Olmert-Peretz government isn't offering anything but more blood, sweat and tears.
Many Israelis assumed the uprooting of the Gush Katif settlements would serve as a precedent for the removal of settlements in the West Bank. Good people hoped that the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip was a down payment on a withdrawal from the West Bank. They argued that there is no crime greater than the crimes of the occupation, and that in exchange for the "historical step," the attorney general and the media must "protect Sharon like a citron: including with a sealed box, a sponge, and cotton balls," as Amnon Abramovich put it during a conference at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute in February 2006.
In hindsight, given the chaos in the territories following the disengagement from Gaza, and the frozen diplomatic process, it is doubtful if the followers of citronism (handling politicians with kid gloves) would be more forgiving toward Sharon than toward Esterina Tartman, whose iniquities are white as snow compared to the suspicions that surrounded the previous prime minister. However, it is precisely the dangers lying in wait at Israel's gates, and threatening the pragmatic Sunni regimes, that have provided the Olmert government with a rare opportunity to end the conflict with all Arab states, once and for all. Five years after the missed opportunity of the Arab peace initiative approved in Beirut, the Arab League is offering Israel a second chance. In a Riyadh summit at the end of the month, the Arab League intends to pave the way for accelerated negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and lay the groundwork for an end to the conflict along the northern border as well. Israeli acceptance of the initiative would be rewarded by "normal relations" with all its neighbors. Even the Bush administration has discovered that anger is not a policy and decided to to talk with the Iranians and Syrians on ways to leave Iraq. The United States would no doubt be grateful to Israel for any contribution to the fight against the global jihad that is shedding its soldiers' blood.
An Arab diplomat told me several days ago that it would be best if I lowered expectations of the Riyadh summit. Not that he doubts the sincerity of the Arab League's intentions. "Our pessimism is derived from the condition of your leadership," he said. "What value would the summit decision have, if what concerns the prime minister is who will get to him first - Winograd, the state comptroller's report, or the attorney general?"
I was reminded that in honor of the military victory in the Six-Day War, the Knesset adopted the general pardon law, which led to the closure of 15,000 open case files and ongoing trials, excluding for serious crimes such as murder and rape. A partial and problematic step like the unilateral disengagement rescued Sharon from trouble and granted him the status of a national hero. Given the citron experience, a diplomatic agreement that would bring an end to the occupation will pardon Olmert. Only an end to the state of war with the Arab states will turn Olmert from a dismal, marginal footnote in the state's history into a great leader.