Photo: Hagai Aharon
What will he do? Olmert
Photo: Hagai Aharon

Peace partners are coming!

Arab initiative offers hope for peace - will Olmert respond?

Some two weeks after a UN-brokered ceasefire halted the hostilities between Israel and Lebanon, the prime minister of Israel glibly invited the Lebanese leader to shake hands and make peace.


True, the Israeli blockade of Lebanon is still in place; IDF troops are still on Lebanese soil; the Shebaa Farms remain under Israeli control; work to rebuild roads, bridges, schools, homes, and power lines has barely begun; and humanitarian aid efforts have yet to reach the desired mark.


Yet Ehud Olmert, with the same impeccable timing he demonstrated throughout the crisis, chose this moment to go public with his latest peace plan, which can be summed up in four little words: Kiss and make up.


Olmert's game

No one, least of all Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, took Olmert's remarks seriously, but there is something to be learned about his diplomatic vision from the fact that the prime minister chose to make an overture to the man who had vowed only a few days earlier that his would be the very last country to sign a peace agreement with Israel.


Like the trial lawyers who know never to ask a question to which they don't know the answer in advance, Olmert is extending his hand only in those directions where he knows he is certain to be rebuffed.


Arab initiative

At the same time that Olmert was dreaming up this sophisticated approach to the regional conflict, news of a new Arab League initiative began to surface.


The London-based al-Hayat was the first to report on the plan, which calls for convening an international conference under the aegis of the UN Security Council to launch negotiations between Israel and Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinians with the aim of reaching peace agreements with all three within a year.


According to al-Hayat, Israel has already rejected the proposal because it is opposed to a comprehensive approach that would link the three tracks. Israeli media have since reported that the Foreign Ministry views the initiative as "a very dangerous move" and that Minister Livni has made a point of emphasizing that the government is committed solely to the Road Map.


While Israel's steadfast support for the US peace plan is certainly admirable, one wonders if its attraction lies in the fact that the date on which it was to be concluded passed almost a year ago, and no one has bothered to revise it.


Different directions

In this week's meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Olmert announced that the Lebanon war had changed Israel's order of priorities. This is half true. The country's priorities haven't changed, but those of its leaders certainly have.


Before the war, the government had declared its priorities to be reshaping the map through the removal of outposts, dismantlement of settlements, and "realignment" within defensible borders. Today, the prime minister and his defense minister are primarily concerned with holding on to their seats in the face of growing public appeals for their resignation and their parties' plummeting showings in the polls.


To accomplish this lofty goal of staying in power, they have chosen to sow fear rather than hope and devote their efforts to planning how to win the next war rather than how to prevent it.


Unlike Yitzhak Shamir, who was famous for his unabashed noes, Prime Minister Olmert seems to think that he can hang on by saying yes, hoping that we won't notice that he is only saying it to those who aren't ready to listen.


Unfortunately for him but luckily for the Israeli people, the renewed Arab League initiative for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East is expected to be put to a vote at the UN Security Council within a month. This is where Olmert's top priority and that of the country he was elected to lead converge. If he sees the initiative as an opportunity rather than a threat, he may save his own skin while giving the Israeli people a chance at a secure future. 


The Arab states are signaling that there is a partner – in fact, more than one. The only danger here is that Israel will fail to respond.


Susie Becher is a member of the Meretz-Yahad National Executive


פרסום ראשון: 09.07.06, 09:38
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