Talking like Meretz, behaving like the Likud
In order to promote the vital interests of the country, sometimes one has to do unappetizing things. Survival for the sake of survival is not one of those interests.
Judging by his declarations, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert could have run tomorrow for the Meretz party's leadership. Judging by the behavior of his government in the territories, he could return to Likud. Even Zehava Gal-On, the most left-wing candidate contending for the Meretz leadership, did not say that if we don't achieve a two-state solution soon, the country is "finished." Haim Oron would gladly sign the prime minister's statement that the failure to evacuate the outposts is a "disgrace." Ran Cohen would unhesitatingly stand behind the decision of the Israeli government to evacuate several hundred internal roadblocks that are embittering the lives of the subjects of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).
But for Olmert, saying is one thing and doing is another. Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu could learn from him how simultaneously to hold on to all the territories, bomb civilians, expand the settlements and greet all the world leaders in turn on the red carpet at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Diplomatic correspondents customarily call senior politicians the "shapers of policy" or the "decision makers." In the case of Olmert's government, the shapers of policy are competing with the pundits and the decision makers have become columnists.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is doing a wonderful job of explaining why it is superfluous to unfreeze construction in the settlement of Givat Ze'ev now of all times. Cabinet member Benjamin Ben-Eliezer knows how to explain that only the release of Marwan Barghouti can strengthen Abu Mazen's standing. Vice Premier Haim Ramon excels in analyzing the geopolitical situation in Jerusalem, which requires getting rid of the "outer neighborhoods" as soon as possible. Cabinet member Ami Ayalon knows how to explain why it is important to pass, without delay, the evacuation-compensation law for settlers who want to immigrate to Israel.
In the security arena as well, behind the masks of the statesmen hide military commentators. In their enlightening book Homa U'Mehdal ("Wall and Failure"), Shaul Arieli and Michael Sfard describe in detail how Olmert and his defense ministers, Amir Peretz and Ehud Barak, are avoiding decisions regarding the route of the separation fence and are thus perpetuating huge breaches that invite terrorists. They blame the civil rights organizations and prefer that the High Court of Justice force them to amend the route, which was suited to the needs of a small minority of settlers. After each terror attack there is always a minister, sometimes the prime minister himself, who "calls to close the breaches."
There is one senior minister who usually does not speak out of both sides of his mouth. Officially Ehud Barak is in fact a member of a party considered part of the "peace camp." But the defense minister does not miss a single opportunity to mock the peace process, which Olmert has turned into his government's crowning achievement.
Barak considers the remotest roadblock on the outskirts of Nablus a greater Israeli interest than strengthening the standing of Abu Mazen by easing the lives of the residents of the territories and dismantling the outposts. It is not clear, nor is it important, whether Barak is conducting an independent policy, or whether these are the rules of the game that enable Olmert to be seen as a pundit who is never required to pay a price for his deeds/failures.
There have been governments in Israel that favored a policy to the effect that the "occupied territories in the hand are worth peace and security in the bush." Their leaders were unwilling to hear of negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization and a Palestinian state. Then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir once signed permits for the construction of new settlements, but he did not embrace any Palestinian leader with his left hand at the same time. One can argue with the wisdom of that policy, but these were the decisions for which the majority had elected those same policy makers.
The main challenge the Olmert government has posited for itself is to shape a policy that will bring peace with our neighbors and preserve the country's security. The government has decided that the right way to implement these goals is through negotiations for a two-state solution. It has identified in the Mahmoud Abbas-Salam Fayyad government a partner for a compromise based on the borders of June 4, 1967. The Prime Minister's Office even claims that Olmert has adopted the Arab peace initiative in principle.
"Political constraints" do not justify paralysis and deceit. It's true that in our system of government, in order to hold onto the key positions, decision makers are forced to take into account the worldview of their coalition partners. In order to promote the vital interests of the country, sometimes one has to do unappetizing things. Survival for the sake of survival is not one of those interests.