While Olmert Was Talking

A leader is tested by his actions, and several actions by Olmert are not in line with the image being drawn by his partners in Labor and his supporters in Meretz.

Veteran activists of the left who have met Ehud Olmert recently report that the prime minister is determined to pull out from the territories and bring the conflict to an end. They say Olmert recognizes that a failure of the Israeli-Palestinian-American summit in Annapolis means a victory for the extremists of the settlements, Hamas and Iran. They say that were it only up to him, the prime minister would make a deal with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. They claim that were it not for his problematic party and coalition colleagues, he would sign a deal similar to the Clinton proposals and the Geneva Initiative. Nothing less. The threats to tear the coalition apart by Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu and Eli Yishai of Shas have transformed the prime minister into the darling of the peace camp and a claimant in the media to the title of etrog - a fruit carefully wrapped in cotton wool for protection.

Do we really have a new Olmert before us, or merely an experienced lawyer who knows how to sing the tunes that the judges like to hear? How will we know whether the prime minister is really ready to pay the price of an agreement - quitting 90 percent of the West Bank and dividing Jerusalem - or whether this is part of a survival game by a politician in trouble? As the Americans say, the proof is in the pudding. A leader, like any other mortal, is tested by his actions, not his sweet talk. And several actions by Olmert and his government are not in line with the image being drawn by his partners in Labor and his supporters in Meretz. These actions, along with various failures, not only contradict his peace declarations, but undermine the path to peace.

What weight does the prime minister's talk about the need for reconciliation with the Palestinians have when at the same time he pushes a decision to resume construction work at the Temple Mount's Mughrabi Gate through the Ministerial Committee on Legislation? It is hard to believe that an experienced politician like Olmert did not take into account that work at this sensitive site could sabotage the negotiations with Abbas. Only nine months ago, at this very site, he received a reminder of the disturbances over the Western Wall tunnels in September 1996, and of the intifada that began on the Temple Mount seven years ago. Who but he, who was mayor of Jerusalem for years, better knows that the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif is one large powder keg that can explode at the slightest spark? Were it not for the exposure the decision received in the press, the appeal filed by Minister Ghaleb Majadele, the protests of Jordan and Egypt and the "query" from Condoleezza Rice, it is possible the Annapolis summit would have come to a halt at the Mughrabi Gate.

And how should a Palestinian farmer from Mount Hebron interpret the newspaper reports about the Israeli government's willingness to evacuate most of the West Bank when the Israel Defense Forces expropriate even more of his land to set up lighting for the Jewish thugs at the nearby outpost who destroy his olive grove? What is the value of Olmert's commitment to evacuate outposts and his talk about a two-state solution at a time when his deputy, Haim Ramon, is distributing a new document in the cabinet whose purpose is to expand settlements and even set up "new neighborhoods" that the government authorized back when Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister?

Olmert's advocates on the left guarantee his sincerity and say that he long since came to terms with relinquishing the territories east of the separation fence. They should ask him why, if so, he derailed the voluntary evacuation bill put forth by 16 Labor and Meretz MKs. Deputy Minister Ami Ayalon, who was among the bill's signatories, argues that those who oppose it transform thousands of Israelis into hostages. But according to Olmert, the negotiations do not even relate to the communities on the eastern side of the fence; anyone who reads the newspapers knows that in the best-case scenario, the final agreement will leave Israel with the large settlement blocs west of the fence. If the prime minister indeed intends to evacuate the 74 settlements between the fence and the Jordan river, what is he waiting for? According to the surveys carried out by One Home, a nongovernmental organization promoting voluntary evacuation, half of the 20,000 families living in these settlements, some of which are withering away, are not interested in undergoing the tribulations experienced by the Gaza Strip evacuees.

Our sages taught: "Your actions will bring you closer and your actions will distance you." Your actions, my dear friends on the left, not your words.