WASHINGTON – In a rare and undiplomatic response, the kind that the US State Department does not usually issue to the media, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was accused of lying when he recounted how he called President Bush and forced him to order Condoleezza Rice to abstain in the vote on Security Council resolution 1860.
The State Department did not use the word “lie,” yet characterized Olmert’s words as “completely not true,” an expression that is also not found in the global diplomatic lexicon, and certainly not when it comes to the intimate relationship between the US and Israel. The statement, which has greatly embarrassed Israel’s Foreign Service, referred to the PM’s comments as “wholly inaccurate as to describing the situation, just 100%, totally, completely not true.”
In a series of interviews, Rice denied a last-minute change in the American position regarding the vote. However, all signs indicate that there was a change: Rice arrived at the Security Council with a prepared speech expressing support for the resolution. Without providing a convincing explanation for the abstention, it was clear she was embarrassed.
Yet the question here is not about who’s telling the truth and who’s lying. In a relationship between a party that gives almost all the time (the US) and a party that keeps on getting (Israel,) when it comes to issues related to our very existence there is no room at all for this kind of Olmert chatter. The intimacy between American presidents and Israeli prime ministers was not born during Olmert’s era. This is a strategic asset and no one, even if he happens to be Israel’s prime minister, has the right to undermine it.
This is precisely what Israel-haters in the US were waiting for, the ones who claim that Israel is not only an American ally, but rather, affects decision-making in Washington in a blatant manner, and at times does so in contradiction to America’s interests. When Olmert’s quotes landed on the desk of Pat Buchanan, a commentator on MSNBC and not one of our greatest fans, he highlighted the prime minister’s words as proof for Israel’s great and undesirable influence on the American Administration. This is the same Buchanan who in the past claimed that the US embarked on war in Iraq because of Israel and its then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
And all of this is happening against the backdrop of the tense wait to see the Obama Administration’s Mideast policy, and during days where various interested parties are attempting to influence the president-elect. The problem is that officials in Washington do not view the incident as a personal disagreement between Ehud and Condi, but rather, as an incident pitting Israel against the US. The words were recorded, filed, and one cannot help but bang his head against the wall when wondering what Obama and Hillary Clinton think about all this.
Former State Department official Aaron Miller, who was involved in talks with Israel alongside past American presidents, wrote in Newsweek that the US needs special ties with Israel, but not exclusive ties. I’m certain that spitting into the plate he ate out of is not the kind of farewell present Prime Minister Olmert planned on granting Bush and Rice in return for his exclusive ties with them, a week before their term in office ends. If this is indeed the case, we are dealing with a moment of mental weakness where Arrogant Ehud overcame Wise Ehud.