Olmert's Paradox

Whoever seeks to unilaterally determine the borders of the country cannot guarantee security for its citizens.

No one believed Ariel Sharon when he declared that the disengagement from the Gaza Strip was a singular event that he did not intend to repeat with West Bank pullouts. Indeed, a number of settler leaders have tried to hold on to that declaration to counter Ehud Olmert's convergence plan, but their argument is not really helping them: the public can discern between genuine commitments and tactical statements.

Similarly, it is possible to tell the genuine intentions of Olmert: When he announces that he will give a chance to reaching an accord with the Palestinian Authority "in order to shape a new reality in our region," everyone understands that he does not really mean it. On the other hand, when he announces that in the absence of negotiations, "Israel will take its fate in its own hands" and will position itself behind permanent borders, he is indicating his government's real plan of action.

As such, the new prime minister finds himself faced with a paradox: According to Olmert's statements, whoever seeks to unilaterally determine the borders of the country cannot guarantee stability and security for its citizens. The spirit of the government policy guidelines, of Olmert's speech in the Knesset during his government's presentation, and his speech following victory at the polls (which became an official annex to the government guidelines and coalition agreements) suggest that preparations are being made for a historic move. In these documents, Olmert presents the convergence plan in terms that suggest the creation of a new reality for generations to come. He speaks of "fateful decisions for the future of the country" and of "a decisive diplomatic move, fundamental and sweeping."

The tone echoing from this sound heralds a conclusion, a calming of a never-ending spasm. But it won't be: there is no chance that the conflict with the Palestinians will stabilize, certainly not be solved, as a result of a unilateral Israeli move. The completion of the separation fence, partial Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, bolstering of existing settlement blocs including those stuck deep in the Palestinians' throat - all these as part of a series of Israeli dictates imposed on the Palestinian Authority will not lead to implementation of the promises inherent in the prime minister's statements. On the contrary, it is likely that these moves will intensify the conflict, and increase the vulnerability of Israelis to Palestinian attacks.

For all the praise Olmert deserves for his part in initiating the disengagement plan and leading with the idea of convergence, these moves reflect a fundamentally flawed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The full withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the intention to evacuate parts of the West Bank are, indeed, very important developments due to the precedent inherent in them, and because they express recognition that the notion that Israel can hold on to the territories by force is an exaggerated illusion. Nonetheless, there is something misleading in the way these plans are being presented to the public: implementation of the convergence plan is a mirage, because it is not a formula for settling the conflict with the Palestinians.

Olmert approaches the conflict with a crisis management approach, not equipped for a solution. He does not believe in a chance to end the conflict; he is satisfied with curtailing it to the greatest extent possible. In this way he is continuing Sharon's path: the former prime minister sought, at best, to reach a long-term interim agreement with the Palestinians, and by extension, adopted the idea of a unilateral withdrawal.

Olmert also assumes that there is no partner on the other side, and his diplomatic plan stems from this assessment: limit the damage by partial withdrawal from the West Bank. From his declared stance, one concludes that he believes the conflict cannot be solved and that his role is managing it, while aspiring, to the greatest extent possible, to limit the number of casualties on the Israeli side. This is an inadequate view that rejects from the onset a chance to reach, once and for all, a solution to the fundamentals of the problem. It is also misleading for a public snared by the glamour of promises for a better future.