The reactions of our leaders say it all: Between the attack in Wadi Ara and the latest attack on King George Street in Jerusalem, the microphone and camera have caught the prime minister saying, with a strange smile on his face: "I'm disappointed, but not surprised." As if to say: I already knew that this would be the Palestinian response to my decision to act with restraint in the face of their acts of terror; I wanted to prove to General Zinni who is the villain in this story, and I succeeded in doing this.
The reactions of Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert to the ever more frequent attacks in his city are of a similar nature; after every Palestinian suicide operation, he stands before his constituents and reiterates: `I told you so." In order to remove any doubt about it, he warns: "This is not the last incident; there will be more." As if to say: Don't come to me with complaints. I did my bit by frankly announcing what is to be expected.
This behavior invites comparison to that of Rudy Giuliani following the collapse of the Twin Towers. The mayor of New York (whose term has since expired) succeeded in radiating a sense of leadership in his city and among the entire American people in their hour of need. He encouraged them and instilled a fighting spirit and faith in their ability to cope with the crisis. President George Bush did the same. After disappearing for a day (for which he was severely criticized), he made decisions that matched the expectations of his people.
Sharon, on the other hand, acts like someone who is protecting himself from the next commission of inquiry. Olmert also looks like someone who is busy constructing an alibi for himself. And they are only an example of the entire Israeli leadership during this period, which broadcasts a mood of pessimism, self-righteousness and helplessness.
The country's leaders are acting as if Arafat were a natural disaster, rather than a human being who causes troubles that can be confronted; as if everything were dependent on him - and nothing dependent on them. But the citizens of Israel did not elect Yasser Arafat as their leader and, therefore, they should not look to him for a cure for what ails them. Israelis chose Ariel Sharon and the residents of Jerusalem gave their vote to Ehud Olmert. They, and not Arafat, are the address from which the voters are entitled to demand a remedy for the crisis.
Olmert is not required to devise security solutions to counter Palestinian terror. This job is assigned to the Israel Defense Forces, police and the Shin Bet. On the other hand, he is expected to be the city's leader, to raise the morale of its residents, to radiate vitality, vigor and hope. Instead, he's sowing gloom and appears to be busy covering his back.
Sharon's task is more complicated: he not only needs to consider how his verbal responses to Palestinian violence affect national morale, but also needs to decide on a real response to this violence. He has failed with both missions. His public statements in response to terror have not succeeded in instilling optimism or even fighting spirit. His comments reflect an acceptance of the situation as it is and only call for determination while portraying the enemy as the source of all evil. His words do not point toward a safe harbor somewhere off on the horizon or promise even a turning point in the current trend of events. These messages are not coincidental. They accurately reflect Sharon's mood and the way in which he perceives his role.
Since he was elected prime minister, Sharon has believed he should handle the Palestinian uprising with "crisis management" tools and not seek to solve it. Not only has he shaken off his election promises ("Sharon will bring peace and security") in this way, but he has also been completely betrayed by reality (and so has Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who espoused the same approach): the illusion that it is possible to maintain a "bearable" level of terror until the Palestinians decide to accept Israeli conditions is being shattered on a daily basis in the faces of the country's residents and leaders. This conflict requires decisions, but this requires leaders.
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