Ehud Olmert has a problem. He was correct in identifying the demographic and political dangers that the occupation of the territories poses to Israel, and he put forth a worthy plan for the evacuation of most of the settlements and for convergence to new borders. But he failed in marketing.
Olmert thought that the world leaders, who cheered Ariel Sharon's courage because of a limited evacuation of settlements, would willingly buy the new goods he was peddling: removing the settlers from the mountain ridge, and moving significantly closer to the Green Line. But to his surprise, the world was not enthused, and sent him back to do his homework. "Go talk with Mahmoud Abbas, and then come back to us," they say.
It is hard to believe: For the first time since 1967, an Israeli leader proposes to pull out from most of the West Bank, and the world is silent. "Come back tomorrow," they tell Olmert. There are reasons for this that are not related to Israel. The governments in Washington, London and Paris, who lost domestic support, are disintegrating. Iran, Iraq and the price of oil are now of greater concern to the world than who will live in Beit El or Ofra.
But there is another factor that Olmert did not take into account: that the Palestinians will carry out an international public relations campaign against his plan, and will succeed in swaying western public opinion of the validity of the opposing narrative. In short, that they succeeded in presenting convergence as yet another Israeli plot to take away lands and to further annexation, occupation, abuse and apartheid. Instead of arguing about the extent of the withdrawal, they diverted the discourse to questions of Israel's legitimacy and right to exist.
When the western governments turned their backs on the Palestinians after the rise of Hamas, they turned to non-governmental organizations. It is easy to sell them Zionism as an evil empire, which drags the naive Americans by the nose. The boycotts against Israel by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) in Britain, and by the Ontario division of Canada's largest union of public employees, is just the beginning. Those coming after them will be easier to convince.
Israel was caught by surprise. Just like in the case of the separation fence, it turns out that the internal Israeli debate is entirely cut off from the international agenda. What appears at home to be a serious withdrawal and an enormous concession, which will cause domestic rupture, is presented in the world as a tyrannical move against an occupied and wretched people. In Israel, there is fighting over the evacuation of some miserable outposts, and over there they hold serious discussions on the "one-state solution" that will put an end to the annoyance called Israel.
Israeli public relations is finding it difficult to respond in kind and repulse the Palestinian onslaught because its policy is unclear. How can they market convergence if the government has yet to adopt it? And what to do with a prime minister whose internal message is that he is determined to carry out his plan, but abroad declares his love for Mahmoud Abbas?
The result is that Israel is stuttering petty messages of pre-conditions for starting negotiations and the demands of the road map, which no one remembers anymore, rather than making a clear proclamation: We have decided to end the occupation and evacuate the settlements and move to a new line from which we will hold negotiations with the Palestinians after they sort out their internal affairs. Zionism is just, in more limited borders.
Those around Olmert are saying there is nothing to worry about, that in the moment of truth the international community will rally in favor of convergence and evacuation of the settlers. Perhaps it will be so. But it is also possible that until the first home is evacuated, the world will come to see Israel's move as the wrong cure for the disease and choose the Palestinian narrative, which can be summed up in a single word: MORE.
The decisions to boycott Israel, precisely at the time when the government is talking about a major withdrawal, are a serious warning signal. Successful marketing of convergence should be at the top of Olmert's priorities, and his trip to Britain and France next week will be an important test.
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