There’s a terrible disease out there which is predominantly found in politicians and other public figures. I’m not a doctor, but my diagnosis is that it’s a dangerously widespread case of instant nostalgia favoured by selective memory loss and a deep wish to be loved after all with which passing statesmen look back onto their careers and manage to not only directly contradict everything they’ve ever done while they still had the power to get things sorted out, but also have the nerve to build themselves an instant monument in the hope of being remembered as one of the well-meaners, and not as the cheap, lying cowards and corrupted bastards they really were.
Exhibit A: Ehud Olmert. (The list is long. Let’s start out small.)
Former mayor of Jerusalem, now about to end his short-cut career as interim Prime Minister of Israel. He was put in charge after Ariel Sharon fell into a coma in 2006 (speaking of whom, here’s a way of dodging criticism…) Recurring allegations of corruption have made Olmert choose to call for new elections a bit earlier. (Not that the next batch of old faces is any better, mind you.)
First, from the NY Review of Books:
Olmert, who served as deputy prime minister in the Kadima-led government, assumed the premiership in 2006 when Sharon suffered a stroke. He announced his intention to resign this July amid a growing corruption scandal and a dismal public approval rating that never recovered from his failed 2006 war against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.
Olmert: “I said it five years ago, in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, and I’ll say it to you today: we have a window of opportunity—a short amount of time before we enter an extremely dangerous situation—in which to take a historic step in our relations with the Palestinians and a historic step in our relations with the Syrians. In both instances, the decision we have to make is the decision we’ve spent forty years refusing to look at with our eyes open.
We must make these decisions, and yet we are not prepared to say to ourselves, “Yes, this is what we must do.” We must reach an agreement with the Palestinians, meaning a withdrawal from nearly all, if not all, of the [occupied] territories. Some percentage of these territories would remain in our hands, but we must give the Palestinians the same percentage [of territory elsewhere]—without this, there will be no peace.”
Despite this case of unblinking revisionism and blatant repositioning at a time when he just missed the opportunity to maybe NOT build the odd settlement for a change, and he’s had a lot of settlements built and extended, each new house being another “no way dude” in the face of Israeli withdrawal, Time Magazine ends up buying his crocodile tears and makes Olmert’s look back a “swan song of historical importance.” As if the Palestinians needed yet another instance of teary-eyed lip services.
The realism behind Olmert’s change of heart is of tremendous import, summed up by one sentence: “The international community is starting to view Israel as a future binational state.” In other words, forget about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threats to wipe Israel off the map. Echoing views he initially expressed in 2003, Olmert reasons that without an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, the Jewish state faces the self-inflicted, mortal danger of being destroyed by demographics, overwhelmed by Muslim and Christian Arabs demanding political representation. Olmert fears that the international community could ultimately favor a one-state solution, thus spelling the death of the two-state partition that has been at the core of an acceptable Israeli-Palestinian solution for decades. “Time is not on Israel’s side,” Olmert says. “I used to believe that everything from the Jordan River bank to the Mediterranean Sea was ours … But eventually, after great internal conflict, I’ve realized we have to share this land with the people who dwell here — that is, if we don’t want to be a binational state.”
How cute to realize that time is not on Israel’s side. I bet waiting for better times is 100 times easier to take while you’re floating in your swimming pool in your state-subsidised settlement home, surrounded by green lawns and palmtrees and the army watching your ass than standing outside on the road, enduring the umpteenth cavity search so you can go see your aunt on the other side of town.
But there’s hope that not everybody’s buying Olmert’s sob story. In fact, it seems that everybody in Israel and the Territories has his own reason for exclaiming “good riddance.” Four views on bitterlemons.org.
Or to just quote from Ghassan Khatib’s farewell:
Ehud Olmert, who was elected three years ago as prime minister of Israel, will be remembered here as someone with an unprecedented and unique ability to combine peaceful and positive rhetoric with hostile and aggressive action vis-a-vis the Palestinians and Arabs in general.
A veteran supporter of the “greater Israel” ideology, Olmert nevertheless declared his intention to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and allow for the emergence of a Palestinian state after he was elected prime minister. In practical terms, however, he proved to be among those who did the most on the ground to prevent the possibility of two states ever emerging.
Olmert probably got away with the many contradictions between his rhetoric and actions because of the presence of an extremely biased American president. President Bush managed to confuse the terrorist organizations responsible for the September 11 attacks on the US–who were roundly condemned by everyone, including in the Arab and Muslim world–with the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people to end the illegal and belligerent military occupation of their homeland. As a result he was exploited fully by the Israeli leaders present during his term in office, Sharon and Olmert.