After the Six-Day War, Moshe Dayan coined the phrase "better Sharm el-Sheikh without peace than peace without Sharm el-Sheikh." The intoxication of victory had turned not only the head of the defense minister, but also the minds of some Hebrew songwriters of that period. One of these, Amos Ettinger, even produced the immortal verses: "You, Sharm el-Sheikh, we have come back to you again, you are in our hearts forever."
The clock of history ticks on. Dayan, at the time foreign minister, coined a new phrase: "Israel cannot reject the Arab hand extended in peace," with which he persuaded prime minister Menachem Begin to give up all of Sinai, including Sharm el-Sheikh, and sign a peace treaty with Egypt.
On Monday, another prime minister, Ehud Olmert, visited the Egyptian resort town and once again exposed Israeli confusion and contradiction. Olmert gave a clear speech of peace, but left the listener wondering why he does not draw the requisite practical conclusions from his statements.
As the songwriter gushed 40 years ago from the coral beach where "evening falls, bringing another dream - bringing on the water the hope of peace," and was not deterred by the contradiction between the semblance of peace and the conquest of the Egyptian coastline - so the prime minister did not miss a beat when he told the Palestinians that Israel does not want to control them, while the Israel Defense Forces continues to make arrests in the West Bank.
The Gilad Shalit tape was a distraction from Olmert's statements at the Sharm summit. This is what he told the Palestinians: "As prime minister of Israel I say to you, we have no desire to rule you. We have no pretension of managing your life; we have no intention of deciding for you." He also said: "There will be no other solution except that of two states living side by side in peace and security. We want to attain this goal for you, for us, for the region. We want to do this seriously, determinedly and sincerely."
Olmert should be asked to behave in keeping with his position. He has come a long way since he was part of the extreme wing of the rightist camp; now he heads the government, and has the authority to implement his world view.
There is no other significance to his statements except an expression of willingness to withdraw from most of the West Bank and leave the Gaza Strip, which Israel has already evacuated, to Palestinian control, so they can establish their independent state there.
The ideological foundation that comes to terms with giving up Palestinian territories taken over in the Six-Day War exists, therefore, in his mind, as does the political recognition and moral approach that this is a necessary move; what is stopping Olmert from carrying it out?
Israeli leaders since 1967 described their adversaries or interlocutors on the Palestinian side in dour terms: Ahmed Shukairy, the first chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, they said was a clown, Yasser Arafat was a devious fraud sowing evil, and Mahmoud Abbas, a chicken without feathers.
The atmosphere in which Israel manages the conflict with the Palestinians has become continuously more grim, and now Olmert finds himself having to raise Abbas' status and make a gesture to him, which in the past he had adamantly refused to do.
If Olmert does not draw the necessary conclusions, he will find himself longing tomorrow for the moment missed today. His associates have already expressed disappointment in Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's speech at Sharm, which called for a healing of the internal Palestinian rift and signaled his intention to renew dialogue with Hamas. The plan to choke Hamas and elevate Fatah might turn out to be another illusion in the history of Israel's strategy vis-a-vis the Palestinians.
"Now is the time to show leadership," Olmert called on the Arab leaders Monday. "This is the time to lead public opinion [in your countries] and not to fear it ... we must prevent extremists from dictating the agenda to us." The only thing Olmert has to do is listen to himself and act in accordance with his own recommendations. If not, he will be inscribed in the country's history as a clown or charlatan.
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