Analysis / Olmert's Last Stand

In the winter of 2001, the scene was bleak: The intifada was at its zenith; American pressure was on, and the smoke of suicide bomber blasts covered any remnants of a political horizon. At the same time, Benjamin Netanyahu was tirelessly breathing down the neck of then prime minister Ariel Sharon. Under such circumstances, it was not too hard for then foreign minister Shimon Peres to convince Sharon that only a diplomatic breakthrough would extricate him from the bind. The two agreed that Peres would revive the 1993 Oslo track and would try to reach understandings with Ahmed Qureia [Abu Ala], who was Yasser Arafat's representative at the secret talks held under Norwegian sponsorship. The only condition was that if anything was leaked to the press, Sharon would wash his hands of the initiative and Peres would take the blows in silence. The extent of Peres' mandate was the declaration of an independent Palestinian state in borders based on Security Council Resolution 242.

Seven years later, with Hamas in power in the Gaza Strip and threatening a take over of the West Bank, rockets striking the western Negev on a daily basis, and domestic foes ranging from the Winograd Committee to police investigations, to political challengers, Olmert has few options. Not knowing where his next problem will come from, the few friends still in Olmert's corner (President Shimon Peres, Haim Ramon) are trying to convince him to play the final card he still holds - the diplomatic option.

What now appears to be the new formula on offer by the Peres peace industries is a mixture of the Bush letter, in which realities on the ground are recognized, including the presence of Jewish population centers in the territories, the Peres-Abu Ala agreements on an independent Palestinian state within the parameters of UN Security Council Resolution 242 and the Arab Peace initiative. When Peres became president, Olmert encouraged him to make use of his unbridled energy and diplomatic experience. Peres took this literally. As a bonus, he is offering Olmert his marketing and public relations services. While the prime minister is enjoying little public support, Peres has never been more popular. As such, he is someone Olmert should choose to run with.