Making Peace Through Investigations

People around the prime minister are claiming that political rivals are behind the allegations against him in the latest investigation.

People around the prime minister are claiming that political rivals are behind the allegations against him in the latest investigation. According to this version, Ehud Olmert is a victim of persecution by certain elements on the right who seek to remove him from office to foil his diplomatic initiatives toward the Palestinians.

The problem with this explanation is that there is no evidence to back it up; neither Olmert nor his cronies have provided an iota of proof. If they know that somewhere, someone has conspired to topple the prime minister or offered money to anyone who came up with proof of criminal behavior, they should point him out. As long as they do not, the argument sounds like just another case of empty spin that will stain the prime minister's image even more.

A separate question is what will the implications of this version of events be. Even if Olmert is right and political motives led police investigators to his office, this will not rescue him from the dock if he indeed did something wrong and was caught. The police and prosecution are expected to complete the investigation and assess the evidence, and if they find a basis to charge Olmert, his argument that those providing the information are ideologically motivated will not help him.

But the fact the prime minister is turning to this argument is ironic considering the way the government has behaved vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Because what is the significance of Olmert's claim, and what is its purpose? The prime minister assumes that if he imprints his version in the public's conscience - that he is persecuted by the right - he will rally support. He even goes as far as to believe that if he presents himself as a champion of peace, fending off the wolves on the right who are trying to remove him from his post, the public will forgive him for the offenses attributed to him.

In other words, Olmert believes that his image as a leader determined to reach a settlement with the Palestinians can serve as a suit of armor against being indicted. The paradox is that Olmert has not really made use of the sentiment he seems to think the public shares. His steps for peace have been superficial and mostly lip service. He may have significantly altered his public views (which in and of itself is important), he may be talking about peace, but he is doing very little to make good on his declarations.

The basic relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, just like that between Israel and Syria, did not improve during Olmert's two years in power. The prime minister does not appear to be someone for whom peace is urgent; as one who makes use of his standing, authority and power to achieve peace at any cost. No. He seems much more like a crafty politician who walks between the raindrops so as not to upset U.S. President George W. Bush, but also not Eli Yishai. Someone who embraces Mahmoud Abbas, but also tries to please cabinet ministers Ehud Barak, Shaul Mofaz and Avi Dichter. Olmert has not altered his routine and has not turned into a leader who is dedicating his tenure to bringing a real change to the relationship between Israel and its neighbors.

When Ariel Sharon initiated the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, the settlers and the MKs on the right said this was his way of diverting attention from the investigation against him and his sons ("the seriousness of the withdrawal will be based on the seriousness of the investigation"). To a certain extent they were right: For some people in the media, the withdrawal from Gaza was such an important step that they considered it justified to minimize the offenses attributed to Sharon and his sons (the Cyril Kern and Greek island affairs).

As far as was possible to judge, the law-enforcement authorities were not too impressed by his historic diplomatic move, but it cannot be denied that it affected the way the public and some of the media came to view the investigation. This makes the paradox all the more evident: If limiting the confrontation with the Palestinians, despite the cost this entails (as was proven by the Gaza withdrawal), and achieving an agreement is considered by the Kadima leadership as something popular, why do they only remember it when they are being investigated?