Why Not the Green Line?

Olmert must clarify his convergence plan, both conceptually and practically, so that his coalition partners are aware of the main mission of the new government.

When Ehud Olmert talks about "convergence," it is not clear what he means. Is it a program to be implemented immediately or a vision for the far distant future? Is it temporary or permanent? What is its significance?

Like "disengagement," "convergence" is a gussied-up word. It is not a bald-faced lie, since the term disengagement contains the notion of withdrawal, and the word convergence [hitkansut, which can also be translated as withdrawing into oneself or as consolidation] indicates a desire to reduce oneself, to concentrate on a small number of sites. Nevertheless, both terms were consciously chosen to obfuscate their core meaning: they signify uprooting, evacuation, withdrawal from territories conquered in the 1967 War. This obfuscation came out of the bag of media tricks of the Prime Minister's Bureau.

This mask was placed not only on the basic structure of the disengagement plan, but also on its dimensions: Olmert did not describe his plan precisely. He spoke of "settlement blocs" without defining them, containing "security zones" the size of which was not spelled out. More seriously, when he spoke last week in the president's office he avoided using the word convergence, choosing even more general terms to reiterate his intention to concede parts of the West Bank. The services of that learned political analyst Haim Ramon were needed to explain that the new text is the authentic echo of the original terms.

As if all this were not enough, Olmert makes no mention of a time line for implementing his program. It is not known whether he plans to get the new government to carry out the convergence immediately or to postpone it until the end of his term. He has dropped hints about giving talks with the Palestinian Authority a chance before initiating the unilateral measure, but it is not clear whether he is merely paying lip service to international expectations or is using it to avoid reaching the moment of truth of implementing his plan. He is aware that if he does not start during the first year of his term, his bold plan will be ground down in the routine of running the government and keeping the coalition together.

The main question is, where does he plan on putting the settlers he wants to evacuate?

Henry Kissinger invented the notion of "constructive ambiguity," and ever since Israelis have broadened its definition to enable politicians to say "yes" and "no" at the same time, to make contradictory promises to different audiences, to deceive and even to lie outright. Today, with the official launch of coalition negotiations, party leaders seem to have an even greater justification for blurring their messages and intentions.

The conventional wisdom is that in order to form a government it is legitimate to soften verbal formulas and to use words to bridge even serious ideological disagreements. This approach uses sleight of hand to build a house-of-cards coalition on shaky ground. It is not sufficient for Olmert to declare that all coalition partners must agree to his plans in the West Bank. Before his team begins to negotiate, it must be given a document that translates the convergence concept into a detailed plan of action.

This will ensure that all parties know exactly what they are getting into - above all the ultra-Orthodox parties that are plotting to enjoy the spoils of power for the first two years of the term and resign before the convergence is implemented. Olmert must also define the sites onto which the settlers will converge post-evacuation: why not guide them to this side of the Green Line rather than the West Bank settlement blocs? Why expand the latter, which are already an obstacle to reaching a permanent agreement with the Palestinians?

Olmert must clarify his convergence plan, both conceptually and practically, so that his coalition partners are aware of the main mission of the new government.