We aren't done licking the wounds of Lebanon War II, learning our lessons and searching for those who messed up, and we've already been hit by one of the biggest waves of corruption this country has ever known, this time from the direction of the tax authorities. One person calls it a living nightmare. Another says the sky has fallen.
A whole series of high-ranking public officials are being questioned on suspicion of criminal offenses of every possible kind - starting with the president, who faces indictment on charges of sexual harassment or rape, all the way to the finance minister and the prime minister himself, who are still under investigation for suspected wrongdoing in the past.
These scandals cannot be allowed to paralyze the leadership and keep it from addressing the country's urgent problems and challenges. Not long ago, Ehud Olmert poked fun at the word "agenda." "I don't know what an agenda is," he declared, to which he appended the sarcastic comment that a prime minister's job is to run the country.
But while we were busy tending our wounds and trying to get back on our feet after the latest knockout, a new national agenda has emerged. Reality has dictated a policy of "restraint is also power," as Ariel Sharon put it. After the failures of the unilateral disengagement from Gaza, and the painful military fiasco in Lebanon, the new agenda of the Olmert administration has been born, heralding the death of unilateral maneuvers and the renaissance of negotiations.
At the helm of this new national agenda is Tzipi Livni, who went along with Sharon's unilateral disengagement and also with Olmert's plans for unilateral convergence. Yet she was the first to ask tough questions in the first days of Lebanon War. She was the one to propose an initiative to jumpstart negotiations with the Palestinians. She was the one who secretly gauged Syrian president Bashar Assad's intentions (although she backed down when both President Bush and Olmert voiced hesitations). Even if Olmert were not exactly captivated by Livni's hyperactivity, he has followed her down the path she's mapped out.
Talking to the Chinese media before his trip, Olmert said: We withdrew unilaterally from Lebanon and Gaza, and both became bases for shelling and terrorizing Israel. So yes, he was willing to move forward on establishing a Palestinian state, but only through talks, not unilateral pullbacks. In the course of these talks, Israel would agree to withdraw from a large part of the territories. On our local entertainment channel, they would call such an about-face "An Agenda is Born."
On Tuesday, his partner Amir Peretz perked up. After being skewered for trying to play Napoleon or the Good Soldier Svejk, he dredged up his "peacenik" views of yore and presented a plan for negotiations on a final-status agreement leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state within two years.
Reality has forced the prime minister and his two top ministers to admit that there will be no more unilateral withdrawal, not in the north and not in Gaza, and that what couldn't be accomplished by more force will be accomplished by negotiating. Retaliatory operations of the type that turned into full-fledged war in Lebanon, and raids deep inside Gaza, are over and done with.
Everyone knows that Peretz's eyes are on the May primaries. But the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War, the war that gave birth to the occupation, will also be right around the corner then. It is hard to believe that any thinking Palestinian will beg Israel to go on occupying the territories instead of negotiating with them.
After a disengagement that failed and a reprisal attack that became war, a national consensus has been reached: There is no way that brute force and unilateral action will resolve the conflict, and there is no way that withdrawal can be implemented without negotiations.
They say America is a single-issue country. For Israel, that is a luxury. Israel must fend off nuclear threats while paving the way for peace, operate an efficient government while squabbling over seats, fight the "wars of the Jews" while stamping out corruption, and never forget, throughout it all, that we've got a country here to think of.
Welcome to the real world.
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