Annapolis Diary / If I forget thee Jerusalem, you can forget about us
1. A few members of the group of American Jewish leaders who came to meet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday, a few hours after he finished his duties at Annapolis, were dissatisfied with his speech. Why did Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas mention Jerusalem and you did not, one asked. The absence, of course, was not by chance. Olmert and President George Bush tried to bypass the problematic core issues of the conflict. "We say, 'If we forget thee Jerusalem,' but we try not to mention it," one top Israeli official said.
Jerusalem is the stick that those opposed to the renewed peace process will use to beat the prime minister. A few coalitions, mainly of Orthodox Jews in America, are already recruiting members for a campaign against the future division of the city. On Monday, Olmert pissed them off further by telling them, in rather harsh language, that he simply didn't care about their opinion.
Olmert says he knows their tricks. "The Jerusalem issue has become routine. They used it against Peres, they tried it with Barak and are trying it with me." For a moment, the old, crusading Ehud was back. "Nobody can preach to me about Jerusalem. I'm a bigger Jerusalem patriot than all those screamers and preachers. All of them put together haven't done one-tenth of what I have for the power and unity of Jerusalem." Olmert did not mention the name of Benjamin Netanyahu, who spearheaded the "Peres will divide Jerusalem" campaign of 1996 and made similar claims against Ehud Barak in 1999. Olmert, then mayor of the city, starred in a Labor Party campaign ad, promising that Barak would not divide the capital. Will Barak reciprocate now?
But right-wingers among the U.S. Jewish community insist: He doesn't have to agree with us, but he should at least speak to us. The path of "Rabin and the propellers," one said, is undesirable -- whether one is speaking about a dialogue with the settlers or with worried American Jews.
2. Olmert received a draft of Bush's Annapolis speech in advance, but he says he gave no one a draft of his own speech. "I wrote the speech, from the first sentence to the last," the prime minister boasted. "I said things that have never been said by an Israeli prime minister."
Olmert's speech was a hit at the White House and the State Department, where officials viewed it as the continuation of his address at the Saban Forum, in which Olmert presented himself as the historical successor of Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon. "After my speech at the Saban Forum," Olmert said yesterday, "Condi [Condoleezza Rice], who was in the hall, embraced me and said it was a wonderful speech, and the next day the president called to tell me that it was a 'profound speech.'" Then, too, the administration did not know in advance what Olmert was going to say, and was pleasantly surprised.
Ehud Barak also surprised listeners at Annapolis, when he justifiably claimed credit for attempting an unprecedented initiative to end the conflict at Camp David in 2000. It was not an easy admission for Barak, who lost the government after that summit, whose results were dismal. But Olmert did not notice. He was not in the room during Barak's speech, during the second part of the conference, and he said yesterday that he had not yet had a chance to read his defense minister's speech.
3. A few hours after the Israeli delegation boarded a plane for Tel Aviv, America returned to the number-one item on its agenda for the year to come: the 2008 national elections. The Republican candidates for president held another debate, in which they answered questions posed by YouTube users via video. Olmert spoke with some of the candidates during his visit, including his buddy, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, of course, but also former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. He also spoke with Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama.