Olmert's fateful year
From this moment on, Olmert must focus on one key task, something he undertook to do in his election campaign: dismantling the settlement enterprise.
The celebrations marking Israel's 58th Independence Day come at a time of upheaval in the country's leadership and coincide with monumental changes in the political landscape and the public discourse. After years of crippling internal strife, there is now a broad consensus among the public regarding our national goals, the most important of which are to safeguard the Jewish and democratic character of Israel and to tackle growing social gaps. The composition of Ehud Olmert's new government, which will take office the day after Independence Day, is an expression of the national effort to fulfill these goals. The new government will be judged on its ability to do so.
From this moment on, Olmert must focus on one key task, something he undertook to do in his election campaign: dismantling the settlement enterprise established by his predecessors and pulling Israel's population together within new borders. This is to ensure that Israel continues to enjoy a Jewish majority and ends the subjugation of millions of Palestinians.
Olmert should learn from those who preceded him that his first year as prime minister is critical. The political situation that the election created - a state without a dominant ruling party and with chronic governmental instability - means that he has no time to dally. Olmert must put aside secondary goals and devote his time to the historic task of dividing the country. The dozens of settlements - planted in the heart of Palestinian population blocs, fanning the flames of conflict and undermining Israel's international legitimacy - are a threat to the future and independence of the Jewish state.
One cannot overstate the enormity of the task facing the new prime minister. Implementing the convergence plan will take a huge political, diplomatic, financial and military effort. Enlisting the support of the Unites States, completing the separation fence, deploying the Israel Defense Forces, immediately implementing an evacuation plan, and compensating and relocating the uprooted settlers are all vital components of the plan - but they alone are not enough. Dismantling dozens of settlements located on the other side of the separation fence will entail a conflict with the ideological core of the settlement movement, which is still clinging to its dreams even after failing to prevent the evacuation of Gush Katif.
Olmert has undertaken to engage the settlers in a dialogue aimed at enlisting their support, or at least assuaging their resistance. But he must not be tempted to compromise, water down his plan or waste precious time simply because he fears internal strife. Olmert will achieve his goal only by displaying supreme leadership qualities and sticking stubbornly to his guns.
During the course of the coalition talks, Olmert used language softer than his pre-election rhetoric. He avoided using the word "convergence" and allowed Shas to join his coalition without committing to the plan to dismantle settlements. One can only hope that these were tactical concessions, not a sign of future vacillation.
The coming year will be fateful. By the time Israel reaches its 59th Independence Day, the country must be on a clear course to convergence within new borders and an end to the occupation. This is the best way to safeguard Israel's future and prosperity in the years to come.