The Problem That Disappeared

A month after the war in Lebanon ended, the time has come to ask what the Olmert government has to offer, now that the unilateral withdrawal plan is off the table.

A month after the war in Lebanon ended, the time has come to ask what the Olmert government has to offer, now that the unilateral withdrawal plan is off the table. Beforehand, though, we must ask if more time, thought and planning is dedicated to policymaking than to coming up with a casual answer to journalists' questions. If the decision to go to war was made in a moment, in reaction to the abduction of the soldiers, it is questionable whether anyone even decided to put the realignment plan back in a drawer.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mentioned it in a speech, Interior Minister Roni Bar-On said the realignment was being frozen temporarily, and Shimon Peres said there would be no withdrawal from the territories in the next 10 years. The impression is that the government has lost its way.

Over the last two days, a chance rolled around for Olmert to recall the road map, in honor of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's visit. It is difficult to understand why Olmert waited for Blair's arrival to discuss a meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) or to promise the release of prisoners, just as it is difficult to understand why the Israeli government ignored Abu Mazen and then remembered him only after Hamas had taken power. The political vacuum generated by the government leaves a wide opening for those who have a clear agenda: the Hamas military wing, which is taking control of the Gaza Strip; and the settlers, who have already announced that the cancellation of the unilateral withdrawal will lead to a push for new construction in the West Bank.

Everyone in the Sharon government talked about the "demographic problem" to convince people of the justness of the pullout. Now the Palestinians have been forgotten and demographics have been forgotten - all because the data can't be used for political ends. But the apartheid regime in the territories remains intact; millions of Palestinians are living without rights, freedom of movement or a livelihood, under the yoke of ongoing Israeli occupation, and in the future they will turn the Jews into a minority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

The unfinished separation fence has become a monument to the shortsightedness of the Israeli policy to neither swallow nor regurgitate. The fence was meant to serve the unilateral withdrawal, but it has become clear that more outposts will be erected wherever the fence has not been completed, now that the Justice Ministry has suggested "laundering" the existing illegal outposts. When we want to withdraw, we will have to contend with more settlers.

If the incumbent cabinet expands rightward to survive, it will not be able to set out a new political agenda. Even in the current situation, the cabinet does not appear capable of developing policy, only of reacting to the day's events from the gut and using force. The unilateral release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners sitting in our jails - with and without blood on their hands, with and without a trial, with and without a reason (some are held as bargaining chips) - could serve as a gesture that sets in motion a process of building mutual trust.

But that is not enough. The least we can expect from a government that does not have a better solution to offer, and that has relinquished the solution for which it was elected, is that it tries to begin speaking with whoever is willing on the other side, that it involves Europe, that it suggests bringing an international force into the region - possibly with a United Nations mandate, to at least prevent deterioration. And perhaps this will be the way toward separation into two states.