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Time to say 'yes.' Ehud Olmert
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Bury Sharon's legacy
Every PM since Begin negotiated with Arabs; Olmert must turn Left or go home

It's a good thing Begin and Rabin had time. At least we have peace with Egypt and Jordan. Had the leaders of these two countries proposed to reach an agreement with Israel these days, the Olmert government would surely find excuses for rejecting the offer.

 

What peace are they talking about, we would hear the leaked outcries from Jerusalem "after all they demand all of the Sinai and the

dismantlement of all communities, while the others have not yet expressed their regret for supporting Saddam Hussein. Not to mention the great power of the fundamentalist Muslims in those two countries."

 

Reasons for rejection are always easy to find. This, in essence, is the Sharon legacy that Olmert is clinging to: Under no circumstances should we engage in negotiations with the Arabs. If talks fail, Israel would be blamed, and if they succeed, the price known in advance is not worth the return.

 

All prime ministers in the past 30 years conducted negotiations, and some of them did it with more than one Arab element - All of them, that is, until Sharon came along. In his first year in office, Olmert refuses to continue along the path of Begin, and even that of Shamir and Netanyahu - all of them, from Camp David through the Madrid Conference and on to the Wye Agreement - engaged in talks with our neighbors.

 

Every prime minister elected here in the past 30 years turned Left after being elected. Olmert should also turn Left, or go home.

 

The prime minister can work out with the Americans and with Palestinian leader Abbas the principles for a final-status agreement as a basis for future negotiations. He does not need to obligate now to end the process or to a timetable for its implementation. Meanwhile, such agreed-upon plan would serve to boost the pressure on Hamas, enjoy the support of the moderate Arab world, and add some substances to the political horizon everyone agrees is needed.

 

An agreement on such principles is also Israel's only way to entrench the vague declarations made by President Bush before the disengagement regarding the 1967 borders and the return of refugees. The Israeli interest obligates us to reach these understandings before the current American Administration completes its term in office.

 

Peace more popular than Olmert

Instead of saying "No" to the Syrians, "No" to the Saudis, "No" to Abbas and "No" to Condoleezza Rice, the prime minister would do well to say "Yes" for once.

 

His first partner for a positive declaration would be the Israeli public - the same public that currently greatly dislikes its prime minister. By the way, if Olmert is seeking the Saudi initiative, only without a return to the 1967 borders and without the right of return, he would do well to check with several of his ministers and some of the new Palestinian ministers: they have signed the Geneva Initiative.

 

The latest polls already showed that the majority of Israelis back negotiations with the Palestinians in the wake of the establishment of the Palestinian national unity government. The public wishes to see the current state of affairs change and understands that if we fail to talk, there is no chance of ending it.

 

The granting of a mandate to Abbas to negotiate with Israel, the ratification of the Arab initiative in Riyadh, and the willingness of America, our greatest ally, to boost its involvement create an opportunity we would only be able to long for in the future.

 

It is difficult to assume that we would ever enjoy a friendlier Administration, with the likelihood of seeing it pressuring or forcing us to do something being slim. It is difficult to believe that without diplomatic hope the Palestinians and Arab world would not turn to desperations and its disastrous implications.

 

Peace is more popular than Olmert. This government can continue riding towards its political and personal abyss. The problem is, of course, that all of us shall pay the price of the collapse. We all wish that Ariel Sharon gets well and recovers. But we must bury his legacy, before it buries us.

 

The writer is the Geneva Initiative's director-general

 

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