Seeing beyond the skepticism
Personally, I am not joining the Olmert bashers, because the things he is saying are important and need to be said. His words, which are being recorded by our Arab neighbors, and which are seeping into the consciousness of the new U.S. administration, are perceived as Israel's policy and aspiration.
Ehud Olmert's remarks in his last few months in office about the territorial concessions he believes Israel must make to achieve peace wouldn't shame a dove like Yossi Beilin. At the opening of the winter session of the Knesset, he gave a speech that even Shimon Peres wouldn't have been ashamed of. In fact, it would have won him a knighthood from the Order of the Leftists.
But the most left-wing speech of all was reserved for the state ceremony commemorating Yitzhak Rabin, in which Olmert called for a complete withdrawal from the territories and a return to the pre-1967 borders, including giving up Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem.
In a firm voice, full of determination, sounding not the least bit like someone whose career was about to end in disgrace, with a police indictment hanging over his head like Damocle's sword, he talked about the urgency of withdrawal from the territories, lest we lose support for the vision of two states for two peoples. Any future government will need to tell the truth, he said, and this truth will necessitate ripping away many portions of the homeland.
Both Kadima and the peace camp have been skeptical of these remarks. Some see them as an attempt to settle the score with those who forced him to step down. Olmert can keep repeating he is Ariel Sharon's heir, and what was good for Sharon is good for him, but in practice, Sharon never went that far in laying out his plans. Sharon's decision to evacuate Gush Katif, as he told me in February 2004, was a step toward weaning the country from the dream of a Greater Israel.
All kinds of theories were put forward for Sharon's actions. Some commentators said he was trying to get the police probe off his back. Others said he was working in cahoots with President Bush to make sure there would be no withdrawal until the terror stopped. Which means never. In any case, the peace camp liked the weaning theory.
But Sharon took the secret of how, and up to what point, he intended to carry out his plan, to the respiratory rehabilitation ward. Ditto for how he would feel about a speech as detailed as Olmert's.
The decision to bring forward the elections and the absence of any indictment against him for now, have left Olmert in office. While Tzipi Livni is climbing the walls to form a government without elections and is wasting time with the Labor chairman, who doesn't seem to understand that he will soon be left without a party, Olmert has decided to play the grand, visionary prime minister - the better to bog Livni down with "continuing his legacy," replete with impossible goals.
There are quite a few people who think he is settling accounts with Livni this way, burdening her with missions that he believes her administration will never be able to carry out. They say he is banking on this specter of concessions to induce the Likudniks in Kadima to race back to Netanyahu's Likud, where there is lots of empty space and high hopes for victory.
If not for the police investigations and the embarrassing Talansky testimony, it is doubtful Olmert would talk about dividing Jerusalem, giving up all the occupied territory, lambasting the settler extremists or dismantling illegal outposts.
But considering his predicament at the moment, many suspect he is acting out of personal spite, in order to make life difficult for his successors and to saddle Menachem Mazuz with the blame for stalling the peace process. As a lame duck, he is now free to dig up every cliche about peace he can possibly find and to embarrass the next government.
Personally, I am not joining the Olmert bashers, because the things he is saying are important and need to be said.
His words, which are being recorded by our Arab neighbors, and which are seeping into the consciousness of the new U.S. administration and countries of Europe, are perceived as Israel's policy and aspiration.
So even if we assume that Olmert, the old fox, is playing a cynical game, in the end what he is saying is being etched in the public mind as an existential problem that cannot be solved by being swept under the rug.