Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may be the world's greatest walking argument for religion. The man believes in nothing beyond his survival in office, and as a consequence is bringing Israel to the brink of disaster.
In 1990, columnist George Will pronounced then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak to be the "perhaps the most calamitous leader any democracy has ever had." And he linked Barak's failure directly to the seven year Oslo process culminating in the failure of Camp David in the summer of 2000. That process had succeeded in "delegitimizing all previous positions . . . and destroying the absolute prerequisite for successful negotiations – the insistence that something is nonnegotiable," wrote Will.
In this regard, Olmert is as bad, and perhaps worse. In last week's "new year" interview with the Jerusalem Post, he had scarcely a word to say about Israel's red lines (the term did not come up), about what Israel cannot do without bringing about its own demise in the form of civil war, or of what the Palestinians must do if they hope to achieve a state.
Rather he spoke of Israel's desperation, of its urgent need to realize the vision of two states for two people or face the end of Israel's existence as a Jewish state. The Palestinians view time is on their side, and Olmert confirmed it. Yasir Arafat used to boast that in the long-run the more fecund "Arab womb" guaranteed the triumph of the Palestinians, and again Olmert offered his assent.
While waiting for demography to take its course, Arafat relied on terror to wear the Jews down, destroy their will, cause them to flee. He told the editor al-Quds al-Arabi in 1994 from Tunisia, "I shall drive them mad. I shall turn these agreements into a disaster for them. Not in my days, but in your time you shall see the Jews running away from Palestine. Only be patient."
Just before Yasir Arafat seized control of the PLO in August 1968, reports Professor Efraim Karsh of Kings College, University of London, in the current issue of Commentary, he called for the transfer of all terrorist bases into the West Bank and Gaza in order to launch a sustained terrorist campaign that would undermine Israel's way of life by discouraging immigration, encouraging emigration, and forcing Israel to devote most of its economic resources to defending itself. That plan would have remained only a dream had not Arafat been rescued from oblivion by Oslo and invited to take up residence on our doorsteps.
Now Olmert proposes to take us down that path again. Just as Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin, Oslo's chief architects imagined that they had the ability to bring about peace by making Arafat an offer he could not refuse, so does Olmert act as if peace were within Israel's power to bring about. And he conveys the message that Israel needs that peace much more than the Palestinians do, leading to the irony noted by Jerusalem Post editor David Horowitz: "Israel increasingly seems to be seeking the establishment of Palestinae with far more urgency than the Palestinians do."
Not once in his interview with Jerusalem Post editor did Olmert mention a single lesson that he had learned from the Oslo years or even the more recent Gaza withdrawal, of which he was one of the leading supporters. Like Barak before Camp David, who made the cardinal negotiating error of announcing his final position at the beginning of negotiations, Olmert signals to the Palestinians that all is theirs, without a word about what Israel must receive in turn.
Even as he professed to almost see the "hand of G-d" in the current constellation of world leaders supportive of Israel's existence, led by President George W. Bush, Olmert pointed out that even Israel's "best friends" view Israel's future in terms of a return to the 1967 borders and a divided Jerusalem. He did nothing to disabuse those world leaders or the Palestinians of that view.
Asked whether the Palestinians are as eager for peace as he is – which should after all be the main question -- Olmert tried to sound tough: It's not my job to worry for the Palestinians. Well, it certainly is his job to worry about Palestinian intentions, and on that score nothing in the interview inspired confidence.
Olmert called to mind Shimon Peres in the heady days of Oslo. A few days after the signing of the first Oslo Accords, Arafat told an Arabic-speaking crowd in Johannesberg that he viewed the agreements as no different than the treaty signed by Mohammed with the Quraysh Tribe in 628. Two years later, his military strength increased, Mohammed unilaterally abrogated the treaty and slaughtered the Quraysh. Confronted with the speech, Peres replied, "I don't care what the Arabs say, only what's in the agreements." That was roughly comparable to a house purchaser saying that he did not care that the seller had been convicted of fraud on seventeen different occasions, but only about what is in the contract – and the results were about the same.
Olmert is similarly unconcerned about how the Palestinians view us, or what their long-range plan is. Prior to Annapolis, he briefly demanded that the Arab parties first accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish country. There were no takers. No the best he can offer is his belief that Mahmoud Abbas accepts Israel's right to exist "in his soul," though he can't say so. After all, Olmert notes, Abbas has signed agreements with him (as if Arafat did not sign agreements too.) When will our leaders learn that it is not signing agreements but abiding by them that counts?
One would be entitled to be somewhat more skeptical about the good will lurking in Abbas's soul than is our prime minister. After all, it was Abbas who explained at length after the failure of Camp David in 2000 why the Palestinian "right of return" is a non-negotiable prerequisite for any Palestinian-Israeli settlement. Six months later, Professor Karsh points out, the same Abbas gave a televised speech on Israel Independence Day, in which he pronounced the creation of the State of Israel to be "an unprecedented crime of history and vowed never to "accept this injustice."
But even if Abbas's intentions were a pure as the driven snow, what would it matter? As long as publicly acknowledging his acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state would be tantamount to Abbas signing his own death warrant, the Palestinian people have not made peace with Israel's existence, and it is they, not just their president, with whom we must ultimately live.
It is universally acknowledged that but for the Israeli security presence in Judea and Samaria, the West Bank would have fallen to Hamas, just as Gaza did. And no one claims that Hamas currently accepts or will ever accept Israel's existence.
The evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion of Moshe Sharon, professor of Islamic History at the Hebrew University: "There is no way that the Arabs in particular, and the Muslim in general can or will accept the permanent existence of a Jewish, that is to say a non-Arab, non-Muslim state, in the heart of what they regard as the Arab-Islamic homeland Palestine." (At Annapolis, the Saudis -- whose "peace plan" is supposed to be an augury of a brighter future in Arab-Israeli relations -- refused to allow an Israeli reporter to be present at a press conference they called or to sit in the same room with an Israeli delegation.)
The Palestinian refugees have been deliberately allowed to fester for 60 years, unlike millions of other refugees around the world in the same period, for one purpose only: to provide a ready reservoir of terrorists determined to kill Jews. UNRWA exists, writes Sharon, "not to solve the Palestinian refugee problem but to keep it alive."
But when Olmert addressed the Palestinian refugee "problem" in his Post interview, he had nothing to say about the way that Palestinian refugees have been treated differently than all the other refugees from 1948 and beyond, or about how the Arab world has deliberately maintained them in their miserable state as an attack arm against Israel. Instead he was full of sympathy for the hundreds of thousands who have been kept in refugee camps for decades in horrible conditions, and accepted upon Israel the need to "find a mechanism that will allow them to live with the feeling dignity. . . to create the dynamic that makes peace." It does not seem to have occurred to him that the Arab world with its hundreds of billions of dollars of oil money annually could have done that easily, or to inquire as to why it has not.
Perhaps the most charitable thing that might be said of Olmert is that he is a victim of what Lee Harris calls in Suicide of Reason , the "fanaticism of reason." That fanaticism blinds Western leaders to the true nature of Islamic cultures by causing Westerners to view Islamic cultures as merely different versions of the world they know, with dominant values similar to those espoused by their own culture.
In his Post interview, Olmert, for instance, draws an utterly reprehensible equivalence between those residents of Judea and Samaria who are not prepared to abandon their homes and Palestinians who refuse to accept Israel's right to exist. Both have failed to reconcile themselves to peace, he charges, without noting that the latter constitute the majority of Palestinian society.
As prime minister of the "Little Satan," or, viewed from another perspective, the leader the West's first line of defense against Islamic advance, it is Olmert's job to alert the West to the true nature of the Islamic threat, not lure it into an even deeper sleep with pretty pictures of peace, slam, and certainly not to further embolden the Islamists to think that Israel and the West have no stomach to defend themselves..
It is an easy matter to draw lines on a map, and to imagine the parties on both sides of the line living happily ever after in peace. If that ever came to pass, it would barely matter where the lines were drawn. Jews could travel safely to their historical homeland under Palestinian sovereignty. Indeed there is no reason why Jews could not continue to live there. But that, of course, is pure fantasy.
Instead of pointing to the more than 1,500 Israeli lives lost to terror since Oslo, or even to the recent murderers of three Israeli citizens by Palestinian "security" personnel on the Palestinian Authority payroll, the only "treaty" violation Olmert mentions is building by Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria. But for that building, he speculates, ridiculously, the recent announcements of new building tenders in Maaleh Adumim and the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa would not have created an international brouhaha, even as the murders of Jews by Abbas's off-duty policemen go virtually unnoticed. Olmert has apparently convinced himself that the Palestinians have no problem with Har Homa or Maaleh Adumim.
Rather than sounding any alarms or warning of the cost of Israel of every previous peace initiative, Olmert tosses bouquets in every direction. Egypt's Hosni Mubarak is a "very impressive man." No doubt. But why does he maintain a million-man army, and spend billions annually supplying that army with the most advanced weaponry money can buy, if his intentions towards Israel are peaceful. There is no other country besides Israel at which those weapons will ever be directed. And why does this "very impressive" man allow advanced weapons to continue to flow into Gaza? And why does he refuse to sully himself by ever coming to Israel, but rather insist that Israeli ministers and prime ministers come to him as supplicants?
Vladimir Putin is also a "very impressive" man in Olmert's eyes, who has personally assured him that Russia will do nothing to injure Israel.
But the most impressive of all is naturally U.S. President George W. Bush. Olmert happily volunteers that there is nothing that the U.S . administration is doing to which he does not agree. He notes that when Bush is warned that Annapolis poses grave dangers to Israel, he replies, "I don't hear that from the people who represent Israel."
And that is precisely the problem. Just as Ehud Barak dragged President Clinton to the disastrous Camp David summit, so too Olmert is as much the instigator of Annapolis and beyond as he is the victim. And just as Barak did so in a desperate attempt to save his falterning government, so too Olmert.