The political culture of the current government holds only one thing holy: press releases. Its leadership is engaged in a crazed chase for receiving credit for various political and security-related moves, and for coverage in the broadcast news bulletins and press headlines. There is nothing more important than feeding the insatiable hunger of the press.
In recent days the struggle between the offices of the prime minister and the defense minister reached a new peak, both competing to issue statements on the "easing" of restrictions for the Palestinians in the territories. Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz each prided himself on how he would remove more roadblocks and carry out fewer checks on vehicles traveling on West Bank roads. At the Prime Minister's Office, they said Olmert berated the defense establishment chiefs and demanded "the Palestinians must feel relief by Id al-Adha next week." In Peretz's office, they spoke of "synthesis and integration" and about "staff work," which was actually an accumulation of words from old archival documents.
The game of Olmert and Peretz was undone by GOC Central Command Yair Naveh, who told them: Your political calculations are of no interest to me. You want to lift the roadblocks on Palestinian villages? Go ahead. But the responsibility for the attacks that will come out of these places will be on you. The general's words scared a prime minister and defense minister already plagued by committees; they put off lifting the roadblocks to "a second stage," which never arrives. The intensifying Qassam rocket attacks has cast doubt over "relieving" constraints on Palestinians.
Olmert and Peretz are experienced politicians. It is hard to believe they are so naive or gullible they actually believe their own announcements. But their cynicism corrupts public life and further undermines public confidence in the country's leadership. During the days of Ariel Sharon, everyone knew that "relief for the Palestinians" was only meant to satisfy the American administration and would never be implemented. But his successors claim they seriously intend to pull out from the territories and "bolster Abu Mazen." Too bad their actions indicate the opposite.
If they really wanted to change the way Palestinians are treated, they understand the Israel Defense Forces in the territories needs to undergo a shake-up in ethics and in thinking; they comprehend that a lessening in confrontation and hatred is not a function of the number of roadblocks or cars checks, but of preventing humiliation and respecting the human rights of the residents of the West Bank. Anyway, Abu Mazen will not be "bolstered" because of empty Israeli promises of easing the pressure on Palestinians.
All the "easing" from Olmert and Peretz stands for nothing in the face of the killing of Da'ah Abd al-Qadr, the 14-year-old girl who was shot and killed when she approached the separation fence. The IDF dealt with the incident with disciplinary measures: the platoon commander was relieved of duty, the company commander was reprimanded and the soldier was questioned. The political echelon was not interested. It was only the life of a Palestinian girl, whose father was in custody for car theft. Why should Peretz and Olmert bother themselves about this? If they really wanted to display leadership, they could have taken advantage of this case and told the army: "No more." They could show up at the base of the Nahshon infantry battalion, where the soldier who killed the girl serves, and give a joint, fiery speech about the doctrine of purity of arms and the value of human life. And repeat it, over and over, until the message sunk in.
But the political echelon has no patience for such trifles. Olmert is busy planning his future trips abroad, and Peretz is busy with the Labor primaries. Their press releases were meant to back up the prime minister in his diplomatic battles and the defense minister in his political race. The condition of the Palestinians, and even the bolstering of Abu Mazen, really do not interest them. These are mere slogans one must chant to get through another day in power.
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