Prime ministers are regular visitors to Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C., but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert set a precedent this week: He is the first to be a simultaneous guest at two august premises on that street. Olmert is seated with President George W. Bush at number 1600, while at number 950 the Department of Justice has a file from the Israeli State Prosecutor's Office requesting a judicial inquiry regarding the State of Israel versus Ehud Olmert.
Although invitations to AIPAC banquets still preface Olmert's name with the title "The Honorable," we must not be too impressed with American good manners. Everyone there is honorable and praiseworthy to the point of adulation, until the thin veneer comes off upon contact with reality. Only two months ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Olmert as a matter of course "a great leader." Now, Bush's successor as the Republican standard-bearer, Senator John McCain, is praising not Olmert, but the political process in Israel. "When there is corruption, they punish people who are corrupt," McCain told the Atlantic Monthly writer Jeffrey Goldberg.
In fact, weeks and months before an indictment is issued against him, Olmert has already lost the premiership. He is now the honorary chairman, without honor. His practical term in office lasted for two years and five months, from January 5, 2006, in the hours after Ariel Sharon's stroke, and until this week.
Olmert took a country in bad condition, and is giving it back in even worse condition. In terms of security, Olmert has allowed Hamas to rise to half power in the Palestinian Authority and full power in Gaza. Hezbollah at the end of Olmert's term is stronger than it was two and a half years ago. Israel stands paralyzed in the face of the pincer movement by these two Iran-backed groups, who have kidnapped Israeli soldiers. Its military advantage over extremist Islamic groups is massive, but it fears using it.
This is Olmert's legacy, which also includes useless talks with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and indirect, desirable but pointless feelers to Syria. The U.S. Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Donald Kerr said a week ago that Syria had not given up on the long-standing precondition for direct talks, that is, an Israeli pre-agreement for a complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights. McCain, who attacks Barack Obama for volunteering a presidential meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, objected in the interview with Goldberg to a possible meeting between Israel's prime minister and Bashar Assad. Such a meeting, in his opinion, would grant Assad prestige and a stamp of approval.
Agreement is no closer now than it was eight years ago with the post-Yasser Arafat Palestinian leadership - Mohammed Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub, who generated the Palestinians' disaster in September 2000. Abbas' rule in the West Bank depends on the presence of the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service. For all intents and purposes, the occupation of the PA territories is working militarily because it does not include settlements and is based on direct and immediate access to assassination targets, unlike in Gaza. However, it embodies no diplomatic progress. If there is a chance for peace with the Palestinians, and to the extent that it depends on Israel, that chance needs a leader of a different sort. Not only from the viewpoint of preferring honesty to affluence: a leader who will not run away from the need to divide Jerusalem.
"If it were possible to make the arrangement we made with Abdullah, that he would receive something from us and we would receive the Old City of Jerusalem, its Jewish part up to the Western Wall, I would think that would be a great thing," David Ben-Gurion reported to the cabinet in January 1950 on his talks with the Jordanian king, the great-grandfather of the present king. "If we had conquered the Old City, we would not have left it, but to prevent Begin and others from blowing up the tomb of Jesus, I am not so enthusiastic about that." Ben-Gurion summed things up by saying: "Our position: U.N. supervision of the holy places; we don't have to ask for the whole matter of sovereignty and customs."
None of Olmert's possible successors is a Ben-Gurion, but after the shameful footnote Olmert added to Israel's history - we must quickly turn over a new leaf.
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