Commentary Magazine


Topic: Prime Minister’s Office

Round Two: Jerusalem Is Not a Settlement

Never let it be said that Obama has learned from past errors. He is not a man to divert course based on mere experience. No sir. His standoff with Israel earlier this year led to a war of words, strained relations with American Jewish groups, and a fraying of the U.S.-Israel relationship? Oh, well. Let’s try that again!

It does seem like deja vu all over again. This report bears an eerie resemblance to those from March of this year:

The US State Department on Tuesday responded immediately to claims made in a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office that east Jerusalem construction had no bearing on the peace process.

“There clearly is a link in the sense that it is incumbent upon both parties … they are responsible for creating conditions for a successful negotiation,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

“To suggest that this kind of announcement would not have an impact on the Palestinian side I think is incorrect.”

The back-and-forth of statements between the Obama administration and the Prime Minister’s Office was over Israeli plans to advance 1,345 housing units in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.

For his part, Bibi was having none of the same old, same old from Obama:

Netanyahu, in turn, sharply defended Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem, which it claims as its eternal united capital, even as the Palestinians claim the eastern party of the city as the capital of their future state.

“Jerusalem is not a settlement. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the government had never agreed to place any restrictions on construction in Jerusalem, which has 800,000 residents.

So now we have a test of sorts — for pro-Israel congressmen of both parties, for Jewish groups, and for the administration. The last time around, Democratic congressmen and pro-Israel groups gave Obama a wide berth to go after the Israeli government. But the world has changed since then — and Obama is no longer in a commanding position domestically. So Chuck Schumer, Howard Berman, et al. — what say you? Now’s the time to dispel the image that you place partisan toadying above principled defense of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Never let it be said that Obama has learned from past errors. He is not a man to divert course based on mere experience. No sir. His standoff with Israel earlier this year led to a war of words, strained relations with American Jewish groups, and a fraying of the U.S.-Israel relationship? Oh, well. Let’s try that again!

It does seem like deja vu all over again. This report bears an eerie resemblance to those from March of this year:

The US State Department on Tuesday responded immediately to claims made in a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office that east Jerusalem construction had no bearing on the peace process.

“There clearly is a link in the sense that it is incumbent upon both parties … they are responsible for creating conditions for a successful negotiation,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

“To suggest that this kind of announcement would not have an impact on the Palestinian side I think is incorrect.”

The back-and-forth of statements between the Obama administration and the Prime Minister’s Office was over Israeli plans to advance 1,345 housing units in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem.

For his part, Bibi was having none of the same old, same old from Obama:

Netanyahu, in turn, sharply defended Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem, which it claims as its eternal united capital, even as the Palestinians claim the eastern party of the city as the capital of their future state.

“Jerusalem is not a settlement. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the government had never agreed to place any restrictions on construction in Jerusalem, which has 800,000 residents.

So now we have a test of sorts — for pro-Israel congressmen of both parties, for Jewish groups, and for the administration. The last time around, Democratic congressmen and pro-Israel groups gave Obama a wide berth to go after the Israeli government. But the world has changed since then — and Obama is no longer in a commanding position domestically. So Chuck Schumer, Howard Berman, et al. — what say you? Now’s the time to dispel the image that you place partisan toadying above principled defense of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

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Upgrade What?

The headline reads, “US Upgrades PA Diplomatic Recognition“:

The US State Department announced that the diplomatic recognition of the Palestinian Authority in the US will be upgraded to the status of “delegation general” Israel Radio reported Friday.

This will allow the Palestinian envoys in Washington to display the Palestinian flag and provide social benefits for their employees.

Palestinian representative to the US in Washington Maen Areikat said that the step equates Palestinian diplomatic status in the US to that of Canada and many other countries in western Europe.

Officials in Jerusalem have not responded officially to the US decision. Senior officials at the Prime Minister’s Office said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was aware of the decision in advance and that the move was apparently intended to strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

For those who think this is a fruitless exercise and inapt timing (given Abbas’s recent indifference to halting incitement), this news is not welcome. (“Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem have expressed some disappointment that the US government has not emphasized the end of Palestinian incitement towards Israel.”) A knowledgable Israel hand e-mails:

The news stories that say the United States has upgraded the Palestinian Authority office in Washington are wrong, for there is no PA office.  There is a PLO office, one that requires a waiver twice each year to exist because of the PLO’s past links to terrorism.  The PLO is, according to the United Nations, the “sole legitimate voice of the Palestinian people,” but everyone knows that’s false; the PLO represents the ghost of Yasser Arafat, plus a whole bunch of his cronies. It would be far better to end the farce of having a PLO office — after all, who elected them? — and to try to establish a PA office, for any current and future Palestinian political development will take place through the PA.

But a peace deal and a PA government won’t be happening anytime soon unless Abbas and other Palestinian leaders stop inciting violence, give up the dream of a one-state solution (i.e., a demographic swamping of the Jewish state), and build some civil institutions capable of managing the Palestinians’ own affairs. Then maybe we can have a peace deal and can talk about flags.

The headline reads, “US Upgrades PA Diplomatic Recognition“:

The US State Department announced that the diplomatic recognition of the Palestinian Authority in the US will be upgraded to the status of “delegation general” Israel Radio reported Friday.

This will allow the Palestinian envoys in Washington to display the Palestinian flag and provide social benefits for their employees.

Palestinian representative to the US in Washington Maen Areikat said that the step equates Palestinian diplomatic status in the US to that of Canada and many other countries in western Europe.

Officials in Jerusalem have not responded officially to the US decision. Senior officials at the Prime Minister’s Office said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was aware of the decision in advance and that the move was apparently intended to strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

For those who think this is a fruitless exercise and inapt timing (given Abbas’s recent indifference to halting incitement), this news is not welcome. (“Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem have expressed some disappointment that the US government has not emphasized the end of Palestinian incitement towards Israel.”) A knowledgable Israel hand e-mails:

The news stories that say the United States has upgraded the Palestinian Authority office in Washington are wrong, for there is no PA office.  There is a PLO office, one that requires a waiver twice each year to exist because of the PLO’s past links to terrorism.  The PLO is, according to the United Nations, the “sole legitimate voice of the Palestinian people,” but everyone knows that’s false; the PLO represents the ghost of Yasser Arafat, plus a whole bunch of his cronies. It would be far better to end the farce of having a PLO office — after all, who elected them? — and to try to establish a PA office, for any current and future Palestinian political development will take place through the PA.

But a peace deal and a PA government won’t be happening anytime soon unless Abbas and other Palestinian leaders stop inciting violence, give up the dream of a one-state solution (i.e., a demographic swamping of the Jewish state), and build some civil institutions capable of managing the Palestinians’ own affairs. Then maybe we can have a peace deal and can talk about flags.

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The Israeli Investigation

It’s remarkable that the Obama administration’s reaction to the Israeli investigation of the flotilla was so critical. As this report makes clear, it’s an all-star lineup:

The Prime Minister’s Office published, on Sunday evening, the names of those who will serve on the panel headed by retired Supreme Court justice Ya’akov Tuerkel, which will investigate Israel’s interception of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on May 31st. International-law Professor Shabtai Rosen is an Israel Prize winner and winner of the Hague Prize for International Law.  Former Technion president Amos Chorev serves as a general in the reserves.

There will be two international observers: Lord William David Trimble [of Northern Ireland], winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and international lawyer Ken Watkin, Canada’s Judge Advocate General of Canada’s forces.

The two international observers are respected authorities and men of integrity that will add creditability to the findings of the investigation. Unfortunately, their presence and involvement are necessary because the conclusions of the respected Israelis on this panel would be dismissed out of hand by much of the international community.

The Obama administration responded to this Israeli panel with tempered support and a dictate to work quickly. It still remains to be seen if the Administration will support a United Nations based panel that will convict Israel before gathering any evidence.

Considering the panel’s composition, why didn’t Obama declare this fully sufficient and rule out an inquest by the UN or another outside entity? Those working behind the scenes to head off an international inquest were certainly hoping he would do so. Instead, Obama maintained his “above-the-fray” tone of condescension and let Israel know he stands with the “international community,” not with Israel. And where is Turkey’s board of inquest? Obama has made clear: that won’t be necessary.

It’s remarkable that the Obama administration’s reaction to the Israeli investigation of the flotilla was so critical. As this report makes clear, it’s an all-star lineup:

The Prime Minister’s Office published, on Sunday evening, the names of those who will serve on the panel headed by retired Supreme Court justice Ya’akov Tuerkel, which will investigate Israel’s interception of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on May 31st. International-law Professor Shabtai Rosen is an Israel Prize winner and winner of the Hague Prize for International Law.  Former Technion president Amos Chorev serves as a general in the reserves.

There will be two international observers: Lord William David Trimble [of Northern Ireland], winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and international lawyer Ken Watkin, Canada’s Judge Advocate General of Canada’s forces.

The two international observers are respected authorities and men of integrity that will add creditability to the findings of the investigation. Unfortunately, their presence and involvement are necessary because the conclusions of the respected Israelis on this panel would be dismissed out of hand by much of the international community.

The Obama administration responded to this Israeli panel with tempered support and a dictate to work quickly. It still remains to be seen if the Administration will support a United Nations based panel that will convict Israel before gathering any evidence.

Considering the panel’s composition, why didn’t Obama declare this fully sufficient and rule out an inquest by the UN or another outside entity? Those working behind the scenes to head off an international inquest were certainly hoping he would do so. Instead, Obama maintained his “above-the-fray” tone of condescension and let Israel know he stands with the “international community,” not with Israel. And where is Turkey’s board of inquest? Obama has made clear: that won’t be necessary.

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Peace Process “Starts”?

This report tells you just how unserious — and unrelated to “peace” — is the process that supposedly started today: “United States special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as Israelis and Palestinians readied themselves for the start of long-awaited indirect peace negotiations.” Yes, after 15 months George Mitchell has gotten the Palestinians and the Israelis to do exactly what they have been doing — talking to him and not each other. Yes, they came up with a fancy name — “proximity talks” — but that’s not exactly truth in advertising. There is no talking between the parties, in contrast to what happened during the Bush and Clinton administrations, which at least got the two sides in the same room. It’s not even clear what authority the PA has to negotiate:

Despite media reports that Mitchell’s meetings with Netanyahu would kick off the talks, the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization has still to convene to give the go-ahead to Palestinian participation in the negotiations. The Arab League gave its backing to the talks on Saturday.

It is unclear when the Committee will meet. Abbas, the PLO head, was in Cairo and Amman on Wednesday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, and was not expected to return to Ramallah before Friday.

But just as the title of the talks signals that nothing much is going on, so does the pablum put out to the media after the first session: “A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the two met for three hours and described the atmosphere as good. Mitchell and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet again on Thursday. In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the meeting was good and productive but did not give details.” Presumably this meant that no one left in a huff, but “productive” — well, that’s open to debate, not only for today’s session but for the entire exercise.

Both sides have said they don’t expect the talks to “succeed” and both want to maneuver not to be blamed. You thought the Iranian nuclear talks were the pinnacle of gamesmanship? Prepare to see both sides talk and talk and talk some more. So how does this end? In a third Intifada? With the administration announcing that they have “no choice” but to propose an American plan and a deadline for its implementation? The best we can hope for — and it would be a stretch at this point — is that the talks would quietly fizzle and the Palestinians will return to the business of creating the preconditions for real peace — that is, the formulation of institutions and the development of a new mindset that eschews victimology and violence. But the Obama crew has made that all the more difficult.

This report tells you just how unserious — and unrelated to “peace” — is the process that supposedly started today: “United States special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as Israelis and Palestinians readied themselves for the start of long-awaited indirect peace negotiations.” Yes, after 15 months George Mitchell has gotten the Palestinians and the Israelis to do exactly what they have been doing — talking to him and not each other. Yes, they came up with a fancy name — “proximity talks” — but that’s not exactly truth in advertising. There is no talking between the parties, in contrast to what happened during the Bush and Clinton administrations, which at least got the two sides in the same room. It’s not even clear what authority the PA has to negotiate:

Despite media reports that Mitchell’s meetings with Netanyahu would kick off the talks, the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization has still to convene to give the go-ahead to Palestinian participation in the negotiations. The Arab League gave its backing to the talks on Saturday.

It is unclear when the Committee will meet. Abbas, the PLO head, was in Cairo and Amman on Wednesday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, and was not expected to return to Ramallah before Friday.

But just as the title of the talks signals that nothing much is going on, so does the pablum put out to the media after the first session: “A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the two met for three hours and described the atmosphere as good. Mitchell and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet again on Thursday. In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the meeting was good and productive but did not give details.” Presumably this meant that no one left in a huff, but “productive” — well, that’s open to debate, not only for today’s session but for the entire exercise.

Both sides have said they don’t expect the talks to “succeed” and both want to maneuver not to be blamed. You thought the Iranian nuclear talks were the pinnacle of gamesmanship? Prepare to see both sides talk and talk and talk some more. So how does this end? In a third Intifada? With the administration announcing that they have “no choice” but to propose an American plan and a deadline for its implementation? The best we can hope for — and it would be a stretch at this point — is that the talks would quietly fizzle and the Palestinians will return to the business of creating the preconditions for real peace — that is, the formulation of institutions and the development of a new mindset that eschews victimology and violence. But the Obama crew has made that all the more difficult.

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What Did You Do?

As Jonathan has noted, we don’t know exactly how shabby the Obami’s behavior toward Bibi Netanyahu was. It is cause for alarm if it was remotely like this:

After failing to extract a written promise of concessions on Jewish settlements, Mr Obama walked out of his meeting with Mr Netanyahu but invited him to stay at the White House, consult with advisors and “let me know if there is anything new”, a US congressman who spoke to the Prime Minister said today.

“It was awful,” the congressman said. One Israeli newspaper called the meeting “a hazing in stages”, poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a White House phone line. Another said that the Prime Minister had received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea”.

But even if lacking the abject rudeness, both the projected air of chilliness and the ensuing deadlines that we have learned have been imposed on the Israeli government are enough to confirm that the relationship between the two countries is anything but “rock solid,” as Hillary Clinton claimed during her AIPAC speech. This report suggests, at the very least, that the Obami are sticking with their modus operandi — preconditions and ultimatums for the Israelis, and water-carrying for the Palestinians:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will convene his senior ministers on Friday to discuss the demands made by US President Barack Obama and his overall trip to Washington – a trip that, because of negative atmospherics and amid a paucity of hard information, has been widely characterized as among the most difficult in recent memory.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office continued to throw a blackout on the Netanyahu-Obama meeting, as well as give only very sketchy information about the commitments that the US is demanding of Israel as a precursor to starting the proximity talks with the Palestinians. The US, according to officials, wants these commitments by Saturday so it can take them to the Arab League meeting in Libya and receive that organization’s backing for starting proximity talks. …

According to various Israeli sources, the Obama administration is asking for Israel to commit to some type of limitation on building in east Jerusalem; to show a willingness to deal with the so-called core issues of borders, refugee and Jerusalem already in the indirect talks; and to agree to a number of confidence building measures, including the release of hundreds of Fatah prisoners.

There were also reports, not confirmed, that the administration had asked for a commitment to extend the moratorium on housing starts in the West Bank settlements beyond the 10-months originally declared.

Netanyahu reportedly wanted to know where the “reciprocity” was and why he was the one making all the concessions. (“Netanyahu, according to senior officials, said that while the US held him responsible for the timing of the announcement to build 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo, rather than holding Interior Minister Eli Yishai responsible, Abbas was not held responsible when it came to the PA — which recently presided over the naming of a square in Ramallah for the terrorist responsible for the Coastal Road massacre.”) Well, had the Obami been honest, they would have said that they can’t get the Palestinians to agree to anything, so they’ve decided to squeeze the Israelis — even though this seems only to increase the Palestinians’ demands for even more concessions. But, no, I don’t suppose the White House bullies were that candid.

All this makes clear just how disingenuous was Clinton’s entire appeal to AIPAC this week. She protested that it was Israel creating the daylight by announcing a routine housing permit. She pleaded that the fuss was needed to restore the administration’s credibility as an honest broker in the peace process. (Or was it to enhance its credibility to Iran? It’s hard to keep the excuses straight.) She assured the crowd that Israel’s security was paramount to the U.S. Then she declared that of course, of course an Iranian nuclear-weapons program was “unacceptable.” It all seems patently absurd as events continue to unfold.

It is not that the Obami fear daylight between the U.S. and Israel; it is that they flaunt it. It is not credibility as an honest broker that the Obami are establishing but rather fidelity to the Palestinian negotiating stance. And after all this, and the revelation that the proposed sanctions will be pinpricks at best, would any reasonable Israeli leader believe this administration will do everything (or even anything too strenuous) to remove the existential threat to the Jewish state?

The low point in the history of U.S.-Israel relations has come about not because of a housing permit but because we have a president fundamentally uninterested in retaining the robust, close relationship between the two countries that other administrations of both parties have cultivated. The Obami set out to separate the U.S. from Israel, to pressure and cajole the Jewish state, and to remake the U.S. into an eager suitor to the Muslim World. In the process, anti-Israel delegitimizing efforts have been unleashed as Israel’s enemies (and our own allies) sense that we have downgraded the relationship with the Jewish state, the Israeli public has come to distrust the administration, the American Jewish electorate is somewhere between stunned and horrified, and Israel is less secure and more isolated than ever before.

If mainstream Jewish organizations are serious about their stated mission, it is incumbent upon them to protest this state of affairs clearly and loudly and make their support for this president and his congressional enablers conditional, based on a change of policy in regard to Israel. Otherwise, they are enabling a potentially fatal assault on the security of the Jewish state. Silence is acquiescence; meekness is shameful. A generation from now, Jews will be asking those who led key American Jewish organizations, what did you do to protect Israel? What did you do to protest the creep toward a “containment” policy for a nuclear-armed Iran? They better have a good answer.

As Jonathan has noted, we don’t know exactly how shabby the Obami’s behavior toward Bibi Netanyahu was. It is cause for alarm if it was remotely like this:

After failing to extract a written promise of concessions on Jewish settlements, Mr Obama walked out of his meeting with Mr Netanyahu but invited him to stay at the White House, consult with advisors and “let me know if there is anything new”, a US congressman who spoke to the Prime Minister said today.

“It was awful,” the congressman said. One Israeli newspaper called the meeting “a hazing in stages”, poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a White House phone line. Another said that the Prime Minister had received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea”.

But even if lacking the abject rudeness, both the projected air of chilliness and the ensuing deadlines that we have learned have been imposed on the Israeli government are enough to confirm that the relationship between the two countries is anything but “rock solid,” as Hillary Clinton claimed during her AIPAC speech. This report suggests, at the very least, that the Obami are sticking with their modus operandi — preconditions and ultimatums for the Israelis, and water-carrying for the Palestinians:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will convene his senior ministers on Friday to discuss the demands made by US President Barack Obama and his overall trip to Washington – a trip that, because of negative atmospherics and amid a paucity of hard information, has been widely characterized as among the most difficult in recent memory.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office continued to throw a blackout on the Netanyahu-Obama meeting, as well as give only very sketchy information about the commitments that the US is demanding of Israel as a precursor to starting the proximity talks with the Palestinians. The US, according to officials, wants these commitments by Saturday so it can take them to the Arab League meeting in Libya and receive that organization’s backing for starting proximity talks. …

According to various Israeli sources, the Obama administration is asking for Israel to commit to some type of limitation on building in east Jerusalem; to show a willingness to deal with the so-called core issues of borders, refugee and Jerusalem already in the indirect talks; and to agree to a number of confidence building measures, including the release of hundreds of Fatah prisoners.

There were also reports, not confirmed, that the administration had asked for a commitment to extend the moratorium on housing starts in the West Bank settlements beyond the 10-months originally declared.

Netanyahu reportedly wanted to know where the “reciprocity” was and why he was the one making all the concessions. (“Netanyahu, according to senior officials, said that while the US held him responsible for the timing of the announcement to build 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo, rather than holding Interior Minister Eli Yishai responsible, Abbas was not held responsible when it came to the PA — which recently presided over the naming of a square in Ramallah for the terrorist responsible for the Coastal Road massacre.”) Well, had the Obami been honest, they would have said that they can’t get the Palestinians to agree to anything, so they’ve decided to squeeze the Israelis — even though this seems only to increase the Palestinians’ demands for even more concessions. But, no, I don’t suppose the White House bullies were that candid.

All this makes clear just how disingenuous was Clinton’s entire appeal to AIPAC this week. She protested that it was Israel creating the daylight by announcing a routine housing permit. She pleaded that the fuss was needed to restore the administration’s credibility as an honest broker in the peace process. (Or was it to enhance its credibility to Iran? It’s hard to keep the excuses straight.) She assured the crowd that Israel’s security was paramount to the U.S. Then she declared that of course, of course an Iranian nuclear-weapons program was “unacceptable.” It all seems patently absurd as events continue to unfold.

It is not that the Obami fear daylight between the U.S. and Israel; it is that they flaunt it. It is not credibility as an honest broker that the Obami are establishing but rather fidelity to the Palestinian negotiating stance. And after all this, and the revelation that the proposed sanctions will be pinpricks at best, would any reasonable Israeli leader believe this administration will do everything (or even anything too strenuous) to remove the existential threat to the Jewish state?

The low point in the history of U.S.-Israel relations has come about not because of a housing permit but because we have a president fundamentally uninterested in retaining the robust, close relationship between the two countries that other administrations of both parties have cultivated. The Obami set out to separate the U.S. from Israel, to pressure and cajole the Jewish state, and to remake the U.S. into an eager suitor to the Muslim World. In the process, anti-Israel delegitimizing efforts have been unleashed as Israel’s enemies (and our own allies) sense that we have downgraded the relationship with the Jewish state, the Israeli public has come to distrust the administration, the American Jewish electorate is somewhere between stunned and horrified, and Israel is less secure and more isolated than ever before.

If mainstream Jewish organizations are serious about their stated mission, it is incumbent upon them to protest this state of affairs clearly and loudly and make their support for this president and his congressional enablers conditional, based on a change of policy in regard to Israel. Otherwise, they are enabling a potentially fatal assault on the security of the Jewish state. Silence is acquiescence; meekness is shameful. A generation from now, Jews will be asking those who led key American Jewish organizations, what did you do to protect Israel? What did you do to protest the creep toward a “containment” policy for a nuclear-armed Iran? They better have a good answer.

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Olmert the Etrog?

John wrote about this already, but I want to put in my two cents. Less than a day has passed since the Israeli Supreme Court dealt a major blow to Ehud Olmert’s bid to stay out of jail, by ruling that Israeli Police may take a deposition from the New York businessman who allegedly bribed him–and now we have the Prime Minister’s Office making a dramatic announcement that peace talks are under way with Syria.

Coincidence, you say? Unlikely. One of the most disturbing aspects of Ariel Sharon’s tenure as Prime Minister was the bizarre tendency for his criminal investigations to disappear from the public eye every time it seemed like he was about to do something that could be seen as leading to peace–especially the 2005 disengagement from Gaza. It has become something of an open secret in Israel that both the justice system and journalists bend for its leaders’ peace initiatives, and that a peace-seeking Prime Minister becomes, in the words of one commentator, an “etrog”–a beautiful fruit that must be handled with care and protected at all cost.

But there is reason to think that what worked for Sharon will not work for Olmert. Sharon knew how to cultivate his image, and he was far more respected by both the Israeli elites and the general public than is Olmert, whose popularity has dropped way below even Sharon’s lowest point as Prime Minister. But more importantly, Sharon’s government was, by all appearances at the time, far more likely to pull off the disengagement from Gaza than Olmert is to sign a peace accord with Syria. First, disengagement was a unilateral move, whereas a treaty with Syria will require that the Assad regime abandon the central cause it has rallied around for a generation: War with Israel. Second, the Golan Heights, which would be the necessary price Israel would pay for any peace deal, is seen by a far greater number of Israelis as an inseparable part of the Jewish state than the Gaza strip ever was. And third, Sharon always carried with him the mystique of a man who can be counted on to follow through with his plans, regardless of whether you agreed with him; while Olmert has proven time and again the triviality of his promises.

The biggest reason, however, might come from the sea of police and justice officials who have been working on the most important criminal investigation of their lives. After massive leaks have suggested that an indictment is on its way, and Olmert has pledged to resign if indicted–maybe this ball has too much momentum to be stopped by the unlikely prospect of peace with a member of the Axis of Evil? Maybe the etrog has already fallen?

John wrote about this already, but I want to put in my two cents. Less than a day has passed since the Israeli Supreme Court dealt a major blow to Ehud Olmert’s bid to stay out of jail, by ruling that Israeli Police may take a deposition from the New York businessman who allegedly bribed him–and now we have the Prime Minister’s Office making a dramatic announcement that peace talks are under way with Syria.

Coincidence, you say? Unlikely. One of the most disturbing aspects of Ariel Sharon’s tenure as Prime Minister was the bizarre tendency for his criminal investigations to disappear from the public eye every time it seemed like he was about to do something that could be seen as leading to peace–especially the 2005 disengagement from Gaza. It has become something of an open secret in Israel that both the justice system and journalists bend for its leaders’ peace initiatives, and that a peace-seeking Prime Minister becomes, in the words of one commentator, an “etrog”–a beautiful fruit that must be handled with care and protected at all cost.

But there is reason to think that what worked for Sharon will not work for Olmert. Sharon knew how to cultivate his image, and he was far more respected by both the Israeli elites and the general public than is Olmert, whose popularity has dropped way below even Sharon’s lowest point as Prime Minister. But more importantly, Sharon’s government was, by all appearances at the time, far more likely to pull off the disengagement from Gaza than Olmert is to sign a peace accord with Syria. First, disengagement was a unilateral move, whereas a treaty with Syria will require that the Assad regime abandon the central cause it has rallied around for a generation: War with Israel. Second, the Golan Heights, which would be the necessary price Israel would pay for any peace deal, is seen by a far greater number of Israelis as an inseparable part of the Jewish state than the Gaza strip ever was. And third, Sharon always carried with him the mystique of a man who can be counted on to follow through with his plans, regardless of whether you agreed with him; while Olmert has proven time and again the triviality of his promises.

The biggest reason, however, might come from the sea of police and justice officials who have been working on the most important criminal investigation of their lives. After massive leaks have suggested that an indictment is on its way, and Olmert has pledged to resign if indicted–maybe this ball has too much momentum to be stopped by the unlikely prospect of peace with a member of the Axis of Evil? Maybe the etrog has already fallen?

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Olmert, the Inartful Dodger, Dodges Again

At first glance, it appears, judging from early news stories on the report of the official Israeli commission on the conduct of the 2006 Lebanon war, that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has once again dodged a bullet. The Winograd Report was evidently written with great care precisely so that it could not be used as a political weapon against any individual figure in Israel. The report contains no recommendations, and “refrain[s] from imposing personal responsibility,” in the words of its executive summary:

It should be stressed that the fact we refrained from imposing personal responsibility does not imply that no such responsibility exists. We also wish to repeat our statement from the Interim Report: We will not impose different standards of responsibility to the political and the military echelons, or to persons of different ranks within them.

Translation: Hey, we’re not bringing down anybody’s government.

No wonder, in the words of the Jerusalem Post, “Olmert’s spokesman, Jacob Galanti, was quoted by Israel TV as saying the Prime Minister’s Office was ‘breathing a sigh of relief.’”

At first glance, it appears, judging from early news stories on the report of the official Israeli commission on the conduct of the 2006 Lebanon war, that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has once again dodged a bullet. The Winograd Report was evidently written with great care precisely so that it could not be used as a political weapon against any individual figure in Israel. The report contains no recommendations, and “refrain[s] from imposing personal responsibility,” in the words of its executive summary:

It should be stressed that the fact we refrained from imposing personal responsibility does not imply that no such responsibility exists. We also wish to repeat our statement from the Interim Report: We will not impose different standards of responsibility to the political and the military echelons, or to persons of different ranks within them.

Translation: Hey, we’re not bringing down anybody’s government.

No wonder, in the words of the Jerusalem Post, “Olmert’s spokesman, Jacob Galanti, was quoted by Israel TV as saying the Prime Minister’s Office was ‘breathing a sigh of relief.’”

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