The critics of Ehud Olmert on the right, including senior figures in his party, claim that the prime minister has turned negotiations with the Palestinians and Syrians into a shovel with which he seeks to dig himself out of the police investigations against him.
They say that to save his skin, Prime Minister Olmert would not hesitate to divide Jerusalem and to hand over the entire Golan Heights. Otherwise, why is he in such a rush to reach an agreement on borders with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas? How else is it possible to comprehend his sudden peace assault on Syria without linking it to the criminal investigations?
Behind the accusation that a political leader is trading in valuable strategic and national assets in order to extricate himself from a personal predicament - an accusation more severe than any of the police suspicions - hides an interesting observation: Those on the right believe that the public is so eager to get rid of the occupied territories that it is willing to forgive the person who would extricate it from them all his failures and transgressions. They recognize that dividing the land into two states and achieving peace with Syria are preferable in the eyes of the public over dividing the land between two nations and perpetuating the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights.
This is not the first time that an effort to reach a breakthrough in the Israeli-Arab conflict has been attributed to a prime minister's attempt to improve his standing with the public.
In the spring of 1996, when Shimon Peres accelerated the negotiations with Syria, his rivals on the right argued that he was wooring Hafez Assad only in order to block Benjamin Netanyahu's race to power. Three years later it was the turn of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deal with the same claims. The settlers and some members of Likud argued that at the Wye Plantation he promised to hand over to Yasser Arafat 13 percent of the West Bank in the hope that progress in the peace process would curb Netanyahu's drop in the polls.
Shortly before the 2001 elections, prime minister Ehud Barak - who had sent a negotiating team to the Taba resort in Sinai - was accused of betting on a permanent settlement agreement with the Palestinians to save his fall.
His successor, Ariel Sharon, who decided to evacuate Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip, was faced with the slogan of the right according to which "the depth of the withdrawal reflects the depth of the investigation against him."
Essentially this constituted a recognition that the center in Israeli society had lined up en masse behind the idea of a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and had abandoned its settlers.
The real problem is not Olmert's tilt to the left of his mandate in order to escape punishment for criminal breach of trust. The opposite is true. The prime minister has breached the trust of the public by tilting to the right his most important promise. His announcement in the Knesset that the talks on Jerusalem were put off blocked progress on a commitment anchored in the basic guidelines for this government, namely to seek an agreement with the Palestinians on the final borders of the state as a democratic Jewish state with a Jewish majority. Olmert also knows that even among the moderates in the Palestinian leadership there is no difference between East Jerusalem and East Ramallah.
Even more modest promises, like freezing settlement activity (in line with the road map, including natural growth), dismantling the outposts and setting regulations for law enforcement in the West Bank have stayed on paper. A similar fate awaited the promise to "complete the separation fence as fast as possible in order to provide maximum security to the citizens, while taking into account the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian civilian population."
During the past two years, the settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem have only gotten bigger. The completion of the separation barrier is stalled because of efforts to adjust security interests to those of the settlers, taking little if any account of the needs of the Palestinian population.
But at the top of the indictment that history will submit against Olmert will stand his criminal neglect of the Arab Peace Initiative. To date the Israeli cabinet has not even discussed the framework which for the first time offers Israel "normal ties" with all 22 members of the Arab League.
Abbas said during a meeting with representatives of the Palestinian diaspora this week in Cairo that he presented the initiative to Barack Obama. He says that the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency of the United States said in response: "If the Israelis do not accept this initiative, which promises them life in peace and security in an area between Mauritania to Indonesia - they are crazy."
Obama was wrong. Missing out on a chance for peace between Jewish, democratic Israel and all Arab states is not madness. It is an unforgivable crime.
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