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Just as patriotism is the final refuge of scoundrels, so the (declared) adherence to peace with the Palestinians is becoming the refuge of Ehud Olmert's supporters against the expected severe conclusions of the Winograd Committee. Clinging on to the prime minister's statements and gestures of goodwill, which supposedly reflect his intention to reach a settlement with Mahmoud Abbas - politicians, political scientists and journalists argue that forgiving him for his failed conduct during the Second Lebanon War is the right thing to do.

On the face of it, this stance represents the realpolitik viewpoint as opposed to the other approach, which is considered sanctimonious and purist. The red warning signal that the realists wave is Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. If Olmert falls because of public pressure following the release of the Winograd Committee's final report - the camp of moderates, which is based on Kadima and Labor, will lose power and will make way for the rise of the right under the head of Likud.

In terms of principles, the argument of the realist school of thought discounts the ethical basis to running the affairs of state. This approach leads to unbridled cynicism that allows public figures to carry out all sorts of evil and folly, and permits them to carry out political manipulation as they see fit, on both the political and military levels, creating a reality, or the semblance of reality, that minimizes their failures.

If the actions of authority are measured solely on a scale of cost effectiveness, the country's leaders can err endlessly, behave in a malicious way, bring about serious calamities - and avoid the judgment of the public on the basis of the argument that the circumstances have since changed, and they justify, or even require, forgiveness and the ignoring of their failings. This approach demolishes the principle of crime and punishment in the public arena and sanctifies utilitarianism.

In the case of the Second Lebanon War, Olmert brought the country into a kind of difficult situation that it had not known since the War of Independence. It is therefore required that he answer to the public for his conduct, which resulted - unfortunately we must reiterate this - in the loss of many lives. If the Winograd Committee confirms in its final report its observations on his conduct, as made in its interim report, his resignation must be demanded. This is both ethical and logical.

The necessary political lesson of the war is that the person who is responsible for the way it was conducted will also pay the price; this is true in this case and is also required to guide us in the future: The sword of public opinion must always hang over the heads of the leadership.

On the political level, presenting the Netanyahu alternative as a destructive force that will destroy the foundations of peace Olmert is building is a delusion. Not because Olmert's efforts at peace are, at this stage, only virtual (they have value too), and not because the rise of the Likud and the right is an exaggerated scenario - but because with the current balance of power in the Knesset and the coalition, Olmert is still unable to further significantly a final-status agreement with the Palestinians.

Moreover, according to public opinion polls, Netanyahu stands a good chance of putting together a government in the next Knesset and if this is what the public wishes - it must be respected. Peace cannot be achieved by sneaky methods. In order to bring an end to the bitter conflict with the Palestinians, broad public support is required, which will be reflected in the representatives it selects to lead the country.

So long as Israeli society does not grant a clear majority to the parties working toward peace, and who are willing to pay the territorial and ideological cost inherent in such a settlement, there will be no end to the conflict with the Palestinians.

Therefore, when Olmert speaks of peace and undertakes steps aiming to emphasize his intentions, he is like a circus juggler. He lacks the political power to further Israel, in any practical way, toward a settlement with the Palestinians, and as a result he behaves in practice like Netanyahu, even if their intentions differ. And whoever places hope in Olmert's ability to change direction, may note the reactions of Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas to the visit of President George W. Bush: If they leave the coalition, they will prove that Olmert has an existential problem with his government; if they stay - it is the negotiations with the Palestinians that have an existential problem.