When Minor Officials Rule

There is no need to be a super-nanny in order to understand that when children break the rules and make up their own ones, something is very wrong with the policy of the parents.

They say that this time the "package" the prime minister will offer the head of the Palestinian Authority will be more "serious." In addition to the release of 250 prisoners - less than 2.5 percent of the Palestinians imprisoned in Israel - Ehud Olmert promised immunity to 178 "fugitives." The bones being thrown to Mahmoud Abbas may be a little juicier than the dry ones he was offered in the past, but the Israeli gestures are still inadequate.

Even Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni argued, during a weekend interview on Channel 2, that if the government does not immediately embark on a serious political dialogue with Abbas, we will be stuck with Hamas and no two-state solution. Abbas is also willing to renew negotiations on the borders, on Jerusalem and on the refugee problem. In fact, he is imploring Olmert to stop treating him like a beggar and to begin seeing him as a partner to a solution.

However weak and battered Abbas may be, he knows what he wants. The Palestinian chairman signed off on the Arab Peace Initiative, which is offering Israel an end to the conflict in return for an end to the occupation and a negotiated solution to the refugee problem. He has promised to bring the agreement before the Palestinians. On the other hand, even Olmert's friends in the bloated cabinet and the broad coalition do not know what lies behind the prime minister's public declarations that he is interested in a permanent accord.

The void created since the long-term strategy for a solution of the conflict was shelved nearly seven years ago, did not remain empty for long. Since the unilateral disengagement from Yasser Arafat, this void has been increasingly filled by short-term tactics of conflict management. The unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip, which was meant, according to the senior aide to Ariel Sharon, Dov Weissglas, to freeze negotiations on the future of the West Bank and Jerusalem, was macro-management. The fence, the curfews and the roadblocks, on the one hand, and the freeing up of funds and the removal of outposts, on the other, are micro-management.

Since the death of unilateralism following the victory of Hamas in the elections and Israel's failure in the war in Lebanon, the management of the conflict begins and ends with what is described as the "quality of life" of the Palestinian population. The meaning of this is that the fate of the voters who will decide whether to keep Hamas in power, or to grant another chance to the "Oslo camp," is in the hands of Israel Defense Forces commanders and the Shin Bet security service.

In essence, the battalion commander, and often the officer in charge of a roadblock, influence the daily lives of the population - and hence its political inclinations - a lot more than the prime minister or defense minister. When the political leadership does not offer any policy, the natural tendency of the young officer is to minimize risks; to close, not to open, to arrest, not to release. When those who are publicly elected ignore their commitment to remove outposts, is it any surprise that the army holds onto every roadblock between Nablus and onto an endless line of settlements called Itamar? Why should those in uniform quarrel with Jewish looters of land, when their political leaders, including the "followers of the way of Yitzhak Rabin," belittle the report on the outposts that they themselves requested and whose findings they adopted? When the government allows the expansion of settlements under the noses of the Palestinians, why should the Defense Ministry not plan the route of the separation fence to match the wishes of the settlers, at the Palestinians' expense?

As a symptom of the ills of the occupation, the wounded Israeli democracy is developing another side-effect: the rule of the minor officials. The facts are decided at the bottom and they dictate policy decisions made above. The flight of statesmen from decision-making and the passing on of responsibility to the lower ranks does not stop at the Green Line. This disease, of undermining the sensitive balance between the political and the professional echelons, has only intensified because of the fear of criticism following the trauma of the Second Lebanon War.

There is no need to be a super-nanny in order to understand that when children break the rules and make up their own ones, something is very wrong with the policy of the parents.