This Al Jazeera video is called Inside Story –Olmert questioned by police- 09 Oct 07.
From British daily The Guardian:
Israel’s 60th birthday celebrations yesterday ended in uncertainty and confrontation yesterday as fresh details emerged about a corruption investigation into the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and a riot briefly pitted Arab Israelis against the police.
Celebrations marking the 1948 creation of the state of Israel were muted by the growing crisis surrounding Olmert. The festivities, the fireworks, the military displays and the barbecues had barely finished when the Tel Aviv magistrates court loosened a gag order on the investigation, revealing that Olmert is suspected of accepting bribes involving “significant sums of money”. …
The scandal threatens to demolish the already shaky coalition government and raises questions about whether a general election would be required if Olmert resigns.
It also risks overshadowing next week’s visit by the US president, George Bush, who has scheduled the trip to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary and to shore up the faltering peace talks with the Palestinians.
A brawl between police and Arabs who were protesting over Israel’s birthday celebrations further dampened the anniversary mood. Nearly 2,000 Arab Israelis rallied near the ruins of Tzipori, an Arab town in the Galilee that was destroyed in the wake of Israel’s creation in 1948. Violence erupted when a group of Israeli Jews arrived at the scene, prompting the police to intervene.
More demonstrations by Israel’s Arab minority – who along with Palestinians call the anniversary of Israel’s birth the Nakba, or catastrophe – are expected today, exacerbating the growing sense of uncertainty about Israel’s relationships with Arabs at home and in the region.
Israeli daily Haaretz on the Olmert case: here.
ONE DAY, I hope, a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”, on the South African model, will be set up here. It should be composed of Israeli, Palestinian and international historians, whose job will be to establish what really happened in this country in 1948.
In the 60 years that have passed since then, the events of the war have been buried under layer upon layer of Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish and Arab propaganda. A quasi-archeological excavation is needed in order to expose the bottom layer. Even the eye-witnesses who are still alive sometimes have problems distinguishing between what they actually saw and the myths that have twisted and falsified the events almost beyond recognition.
I am one of the eye-witnesses. In the last few days, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary, dozens of radio and television interviewers from all over the world have been asking me to describe what actually happened. Here are some of these questions and my answers to them. (If I repeat things I have already written about, I apologize.)
– How was this war different from others?
First of all, it was not one war but two, which followed one another without a break.
The first war was fought between the Jews and the Arabs in the country. It started on the morrow of the UN General Assembly resolution of November 29, 1947, which decreed the partition of Palestine between a Jewish and an Arab state. It lasted until the proclamation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. That day marked the start of the second war – the one between the State of Israel and the neighboring countries, which threw their armies into the battle.
This was not a war between two countries for a piece of land between them, like the wars between Germany and France over Alsace. Neither was it a fratricidal struggle, like the American Civil War, where both sides belonged to the same nation. I categorize it as an “ethnic war”.
Such a war is fought out between two different peoples who live in the same country, each of which claims the whole country for itself. In such a war, the aim is not only to achieve a military victory, but also to take possession of as much of the country as possible without the population of the other side. That is what happened when Yugoslavia broke up and when, not by accident, the odious term “ethnic cleansing” was born.
– Was the war inevitable?
At the time, I hoped until the last moment that it could be avoided (about that, later.) In retrospect it is clear to me that it was already too late.
The Jewish side was determined to establish a state of its own. This was one of the fundamental aims of the Zionist movement, founded 50 years earlier, and was strengthened a hundredfold after the Holocaust, which had come to an end only two and a half years before.
The Arab side was determined to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state in the country which they (rightly) considered an Arab country. That’s why the Arabs started the war.
– What did you, the Jews, think when you went to war?
When I enlisted at the beginning of the war, we were totally convinced that we were faced with the danger of annihilation and that we were defending ourselves, our families and the entire Hebrew community. The phrase “There Is No Alternative” was not just a slogan, but a deeply felt conviction. (When I say “we”, I mean the community in general and the soldiers in particular.) I don’t think that the Arab side was imbued with quite the same conviction. That was their undoing.
This explains why the Jewish community was totally mobilized from the first moment on. We had a unified leadership (even The Irgun and the Stern Group accepted its authority) and a unified military force, which rapidly assumed the character of a regular army.
Nothing like this happened on the Arab side. They had no unified leadership, and no unified Arab-Palestinian army, which meant they could not concentrate their forces at the crucial points. But we learned this only after the war.
– Did you think that you were the stronger side?
Not at all. At the time, the Jews constituted only a third of the population. The hundreds of Arab villages throughout the country dominated the main arteries that were crucial to our survival. We suffered heavy casualties in our efforts to open them, especially the road to Jerusalem. We honestly felt that we were “the few against the many”.
Slowly, the balance of power shifted. Our army became more organized and learned from its experience, while the Arab side still depended on “faz’ah” – the one-time mobilization of local villagers equipped with their own old weapons. From April 1948 on, we started to receive large quantities of light weapons from Czechoslovakia, which were sent to us on Stalin’s orders. In the middle of May, when the expected intervention of the Arab armies was approaching, we were already in possession of a contiguous territory.
– In other words, you drove the Arabs out?
This was not yet “ethnic cleansing” but a by-product of the war. Our side was preparing for the massive attack of the Arab armies and we could not possibly leave a large hostile population at our rear. This military necessity was, of course, intertwined with the more or less conscious desire to create a homogeneous Jewish territory.
In the course of the years, opponents of Israel have created a conspiracy myth about “Plan D”, as if it had been the mother of ethnic cleansing. In reality that was a military plan for creating a contiguous territory under our control in preparation for the crucial confrontation with the Arab armies.
– Do you say that at this stage there was not yet a basic decision to drive all the Arabs out?
One has to remember the political situation: according to the UN resolution, the “Jewish state” was to include more than half of Palestine (as it existed in 1947 under the British Mandate). In this territory, more than 40% of the population was Arab. The Arab spokesmen argued that it was impossible to set up a Jewish state in which almost half the population was Arab and demanded the withdrawal of the partition resolution. The Jewish side, which stuck to the partition resolution, wanted to prove that it was possible. So there were some efforts (in Haifa, for example) to convince the Arabs not to leave their homes. But the reality of the war itself caused the mass exodus.
It must be understood that at no stage did the Arabs “flee the country”. In general, things happened this way: in the course of the fighting, an Arab village came under heavy fire. Its inhabitants – men, women and children – fled, of course, to the next village. Then we fired on the next village, and they fled to the next one, and so forth, until the armistice came into force and suddenly there was a border (the Green Line) between them and their homes. The Deir Yassin massacre gave another powerful push to the flight.
Even the inhabitants of Jaffa did not leave the country – after all, Gaza, where they fled, is also a part of Palestine.
– In that case, when was the start of the “ethnic cleansing” you spoke about?
In the second half of the war, after the advance of the Arab armies was halted, a deliberate policy of expelling the Arabs became a war aim on its own.
For truth’s sake, it must be remembered that this was not one-sided. Not many Arabs remained in the territories that were conquered by our side, but, also, no Jew remained in the territories that were conquered by the Arabs, such as the Etzion Bloc kibbutzim and the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Jewish inhabitants were killed or expelled. The difference was quantitative: while the Jewish side conquered large stretches of land, the Arab side succeeded only in conquering small areas.
The real decision was taken after the war: not to allow the 750 thousand Arab refugees to return to their homes.
– What happened when the Arab armies entered the battle?
At the beginning, our situation looked desperate. The Arab armies were regular troops, well trained (mostly by the British), and equipped with heavy arms: warplanes, tanks and artillery, while we had only light weapons – rifles, machine guns, light mortars and some ineffective anti-tank weapons. Only in June did heavy arms start to reach us.
I myself took part in the unloading of the first fighter planes that reached us from Czechoslovakia. They had been produced for the German Wehrmacht. Over our heads “German” planes on our side (Messerschmitts) were fighting “British” planes flown by Egyptians (Spitfires) .
– Why did Stalin support the Jewish side?
On the eve of the UN resolution, the Soviet representative, Andrei Gromyko, gave a passionately Zionist speech. Stalin’s immediate aim was to get the British out of Palestine, where they might otherwise allow the stationing of American missiles. A sometimes forgotten fact should be mentioned here: the Soviet Union was the first state to recognize Israel de jure, immediately after the declaration of independence. The US recognized Israel at the time only de facto.
Stalin did not turn his back on Israel till some years later, when Israel openly joined the American bloc. At that time, Stalin’s anti-Semitic paranoia also became apparent. The policy-makers in Moscow were then of the opinion that the rising tide of Arab nationalism was a better bet.
– What did you personally feel during the war?
On the eve of the war, I still believed in a “Semitic” partnership of all the inhabitants of the country. One month before the outbreak of war I published the booklet “War or Peace in the Semitic Region”, in which I propounded this idea. In retrospect it is clear to me that this was far too late.
When the war broke out, I immediately joined a combat brigade (Givati). In the last days before I was called up I managed – together with a group of friends – to publish another booklet, entitled “From Defense to War”, in which I proposed conducting the war with a view to the nature of the subsequent peace. (I was much influenced by the British military commentator Basil Liddell Hart, who advocated such a course during World War II.)
My friends at the time tried very strongly to convince me not to enlist, so I could remain free for the much more important task of voicing my opinions throughout the war. I felt that that they were quite wrong – that the place of every decent and fit young man at such a time was in the combat units. How could I stay at home when thousands of my age-group were risking their lives day and night? And besides, who would ever listen to my voice again if at the crucial moment of our national existence I did not fulfill my duty?
At the beginning of the war I was a private soldier in the infantry and fought around the road to Jerusalem, and in the second half I served in the Samson’s Foxes motorized commando unit on the Egyptian front. That allowed me to see the war from dozens of different vantage points.
Throughout the war I wrote up my experiences. My reports appeared in the newspapers at the time and were later collected in a book entitled “In the Fields of the Philistines, 1948” (which will soon appear in English). The military censors did not allow me to dwell on the negative sides, so immediately after the war I wrote a second book called “The Other Side of the Coin”, disguised as a literary work, so I did not have to submit it to censorship. There I reported, inter alia, that we had received orders to kill every Arab who tried to return home.
– What did the war teach you?
The atrocities I witnessed turned me into a convinced peace activist. The war taught me that there is a Palestinian people, and that we shall never achieve peace if a Palestinian state does not come into being side by side with our state. That this has not yet happened is one of the reasons why the 1948 war is still going on to this very day.
RETHINKING ISRAEL AFTER SIXTY YEARS
Israeli Independence Day 2008, marking the sixtieth anniversary of the rise of the Jewish State on the ruins of Palestinian society, should be cause more for sober reflection and reevaluation than for celebration. True, Israeli Jews have much to celebrate. Only a few weeks ago the shekel joined the fifteen strongest currencies in the world, and with an economy fueled by diamonds, arms, high-tech, security services and tourism, Israel’s economy is booming. Israel’s international position continues to soar: the European Union recently upgraded its links, German Chancellor Angela Merkel brought half her cabinet to Jerusalem to emphasize that Germany was Israel’s “loyal partner,” and President Bush will come for the second time in the past few months. Celebrities like Steven Spielberg (who withdrew as a cultural consultant to the Olympics in protest of China’s human rights violations), Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google founder Sergey Brin, Rupert Murdoch and Henry Kissinger, alongside South African Nobel Laureate and anti-apartheid crusader Nadine Gordimer, will also grace the festivities. And as for the “conflict,” it has been effectively removed from the public consciousness (with the exception of Sderot) as attacks inside Israel have been virtually eliminated. What’s not to celebrate?
A lot, it turns out, though most of it exists beyond the bubble that insulates the Israeli public from its wider reality, and so does not dampen public celebrations. After sixty years, however, several fundamental developments have materialized which were not anticipated by the Zionist movement nor Israel’s founding, but which must be squarely acknowledged and addressed. First, the vast majority of Jews did not and will not come to Israel. Israeli Jews represent, if emigrants are factored in, less than a third of the world Jewish community. Only 1% of American Jews ever came, and most of them are religious, even ultra-orthodox Jews, or the elderly, who live there only part-time. The reservoir of potential Jewish immigrants has been exhausted. Second, some 30% of Israel’s population – almost 50% if we include the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories who, it seems, will stay permanently under Israeli rule – are not Jews. This is the Demographic Bomb, made even more threatening to a “Jewish state” by the fact that the Palestinians are a people whose national rights can no longer be denied. Israel/Palestine is a b-national country which somehow must either be partitioned or shared. And finally, the greatest irony of all, it is Israel, by its own hand, through its massive settlement project, that has foreclosed partition and created a thoroughly bi-national entity which can only lead to a one state or apartheid.
These realities are irrefutable; they have been exhaustively documented and are plain to anyone with the eyes (and open-mind) to just look. What remains for anyone sincerely looking for justice, peace, security and the well-being of Israel (dare I say of both peoples?) is to unflinchingly face this political equation and rethink the viability and justice of Israel as a Jewish state. Only then will we find a way, based on reality and the best interests of these two inextricably linked peoples rather than on wishful ideological preferences, to reconcile the “facts on the ground” with the rights, claims and needs of all the country’s inhabitants. That is not an easy task; it requires a fundamental re-conceptualization of the two-state paradigm and, with it, the very possibility of preserving Israel as a Jewish state. This rethinking is, however, a prerequisite to formulating a political program that, given the events of the last sixty years, has a fighting chance of resolving this conflict. It is also essential to redeeming Israel, whether as a country or as a national entity within a wider bi-national state or regional confederation.
Most dramatic development, one ignored or denied by Israelis even though their successive governments bear responsibility, is the disappearance of the two-state solution. Anyone familiar with Israel’s massive settlements blocs, its fragmentation of the Palestinian territories and their irreversible incorporation into Israel proper through a maze of Israeli-only highways and other “facts on the ground,” anyone who has spent an hour in the West Bank, can plainly see that this is true. The expansion of Israel’s Matrix of Control throughout the Occupied Territories, coupled with an absolute American refusal to allow international pressures on Israel to meaningfully withdraw, has rendered a viable Palestinian state unattainable – and thus the two-state solution, unless we Jews, Israeli and Diaspora, are willing to become the world’s new Afrikaners ruling permanently over an impoverished Palestinian mini-state, a chilling thought on this 60th anniversary.
It turns out, however, that we have mechanisms for both delaying forever a political solution and avoiding the predicament of apartheid. It is enough that we maintain a de facto apartheid since, for the vast majority of Israeli Jews, it is enough to merely assert a two-state solution, to profess to support it as a general idea, in order to considered peace-minded. In fact, most Israeli Jews, like most Jews of the Diaspora, require a Palestinian state as a condition for the existence of a Jewish one, the alternative being a bi-national state which is anathema to a Jewish one. But since being in de facto control is better than making concessions power but can nevertheless be presented as a “pro-peace” position, two-state supporters require only the notion of a Palestinian state, a never-ending process towards it. Especially since few believe in, genuinely aspire to, or even care about such an eventuality. As long as a Palestinian state can be held out as a possibility, the pressure’s off.
Thus many Israelis, Diaspora Jews and others – including such searching and otherwise radical figures as Noam Chomsky and Uri Avnery, together with the Peace Now, Brit Tzedek, Rabbis Michael Lerner and Arthur Waskow and members of Rabbis for Human Rights – cling tenaciously to the two-state solution, all refusing to admit that it is no longer viable as a solution. (A growing coterie of Jewish organizations – ICAHD, the Jewish Voice for Peace, parts of the European Jews for Just Peace coalition and others – are unable to reconcile Israel’s “facts on the ground” and unconditional support for its occupation policies on the part of the US and Europe with the prospect for a genuine two-state solution. While not yet embracing a one-state solution, they advocate a kind of holding pattern, expressed in the phrase “end the Occupation,” until some viable solution emerges, a rational position nonetheless considered “radical.”)
Underlying this refusal to even entertain the notion that a two-state solution is no longer possible is the realization that, if a Palestinian state cannot be detached from Israel, then the conflict is one which encompasses the entire country from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. This, in turn, raises issues we’d rather leave untouched, events and policies we have suppressed these past 60 years. A Palestinian state – or, again, the prospect of a Palestinian state – is needed, above all, not for the Palestinians but for us Israelis. It is the only thing that will leave Israel intact as a country and, no less important, leave its dybbuks at rest.
And the dybbuks – any sense of guilt or responsibility for the terrible events of 1948 and thereafter – are at rest, and thus the festive spirit of the 60 Years in Israel. They have been exorcised from our public mind. Focusing exclusively on a two-state solution, on the Occupation, leaves Israel itself intact, removed from the political discussion, off the hook. The threat to modern Israeli narrative, legitimacy and political claims by going beyond 1967 to 1948 – a threat inherent in marking 60 Years – has been excised. But if the dybbuks have been silenced, the Palestinian poltergeist of 1948 continues to stir under the feet of the dancing Israelis. For a good half of the people of Palestine/Israel, the 60 Years is precisely the issue, the unresolved Nakba, the catastrophe as present and alive for Palestinians as the Holocaust is for the Jews. The 60 Year anniversary takes us beyond the Occupation to those issues and questions we have so successfully blocked out, which we refuse to acknowledge or discuss.
Did the Palestinians really flee or did we, the Israeli Jews, drive them out? If almost half the inhabitants of that part of Palestine apportioned by the UN to the Jews in 1947 were Arabs, how could we have turned even that small bit of land into a “Jewish state”? Is Zionism, then, truly free of war crimes or did we in fact conduct a deliberate and cruel campaign of ethnic cleansing that went far beyond the borders of partition? In that context, was the occupation of the entire land of Palestine the result of Jordanian miscalculation or, from a perspective of forty years later, was in actually an inevitable “completion” of 1948, as Rabin and many others have said? Can we reconcile a genuine desire for peace with a steady annexation of the Occupied Territories, including almost 250 settlements? Do we prefer a false peace – insulation from attacks even as Palestinian resistance to occupation grows – to territorial concession leading to a viable Palestinian state? Can we really expect to “win,” to frustrate Palestinian aspirations for freedom in their homeland forever, and if we do, what kind of society will we have, what will our children inherit? Do we have a responsibility towards the Palestinians as the people who dispossessed them of their land, first and foremost the refugees of 1948 and 1967 and the tens of thousands of families whose homes we wantonly demolished? As Israeli Jews speaking in the name of world Jewry, can we expect our Diaspora to support a crime going on these past 60 years and thereby implicate them, thus undermining the moral basis of their community, convictions and faith? And the hardest question of all: What about the moral basis of Zionism? Are we truly the victims, or have we perpetrated a terrible crime for which redemption means coming to terms with what we have done – a task far harder than simply making peace? If Palestinians are understandably preoccupied with throwing off the oppressive Occupation and reclaiming a least a part of their country, their identity and their freedom, shouldn’t we Israelis be equally preoccupied with cleansing ourselves of the transgressions that require us to suppress our guilt, shirk our responsibilities and, in the end, fail to reconcile with the Palestinians with whom we are so entangled despite a hundred “generous offers”?
For Israeli Jews, 60 Years is a cause for celebration rather than reflection. Still, the poltergeist churns, the celebrations are exaggerated, even forced, an unsettled disquiet permeating the festivities, most visibly in the presence of thousands of soldiers and distinctly militaristic character. The Palestinian people, exhausted, brutalized, impoverished, steadfastly refuse to disappear or submit. In 1967 Israel defeated the entire Arab world in six days; after more than 40 years it is unable to pacify the unarmed Palestinians. As the history of colonialism shows, a people cannot be defeated, oppression cannot be normalized or sustained, no matter how strong the dominating regime seems to be. Nineteen sixty-seven had to do with occupation. Had we dealt with that wisely and justly, Israel today could have been a Jewish state on 78% of the Land of Israel living at peace with its neighbors. Nineteen forty-eight, the focus of the 60 Years, is a different matter entirely. With the Occupation having been transformed into a permanent political fact (a Palestinian prison-state a la a South African Bantustan will not resolve the conflict), the question of peace, co-existence and reconciliation now shifts to the entire country, to an indivisible Israel/Palestine. No need to blame the Palestinian for that; they accepted the two-state solution way back in 1988. It is us, those who thought (and still think) that military power combined with Jewish victimhood can defy a people’s will to freedom, who carry the responsibility.
Nothing remains, if we want to salvage a national Jewish/Israeli presence in Palestine/Israel, but to courageously confront what we did in both 1967 and 1948 so as to transform the 60 Years into the turning point whereby we finally dealt with the presence in our country of another people with equal claims and rights. When we truly quiet the poltergeist and put our dybbuks to rest. Supremely difficult, the fundamental rethinking this will require is the only way out. And if, in the end, because of our policies, a bi-national polity emerges in Israel/Palestine, well, if done in a spirit of mutual recognition and reconciliation, it may in fact represent the original and ultimate aspiration of Zionism: a genuine homecoming of the Jewish nation to the hearth of its civilization. Now that will be a cause for genuine, unfettered celebration.
(Jeff Halper is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at ).
Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)
PO Box 2030 Jerusalem, Israel 21090
Gush Shalom Press release Aug. 1, 2008
Hebrew http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/he/channels/press_releases/1217533597 עברית
Why Olmert should indeed be going
Nobody will shed a tear as the political career of Ehud Olmert grounds to its end. In the two years he had at the helm of the Israeli ship of state, he has failed to perform even a single worthy act.
Ehud Olmert should indeed be going.
Not only because a Prime Minister cannot go on while above his head hangs a heavy cloud of well-founded suspicions about small minded acts of corruption, envelopes with cash dollars and falsely billed prestigious flights at public expense.
Not only because he had launched an unnecessary war (the exchange with Hizbullah could have been implemented without killing hundreds of Israeli soldiers and thousands of Lebanese civilians) and because he had completely failed in the war that he launched.
First and foremost, Ehud Olmert should go because he has taken the name of peace in vain. He got at the ballots a mandate from hundreds of thousands of citizens to make real and daring moves towards peace – peace with the Palestinians and the entire Arab World – and betrayed that trust. He delivered thousands of hollow speeches, got hundreds of photo opportunities for meaningless handshakes and conducted negotiations without any real content – and while talking day and night of peace he continued the construction of settlements and walls, the killing of Palestinians and theft of their land, the siege and suffocation of the Gaza Strip’s million and half inhabitants.
He turned “peace” into a dirty word, arousing derision and disbelief, and completely destroyed the standing of the Palestinians who were tempted to talk to him.
Olmert cannot blame anyone else; he has amply earned his ignominious end.
Contact: Adam Keller +972-3-5565804
EHUD OLMERT’S resignation speech reached us on our way back from a demonstration.
We were protesting the death of Ahmad Moussa, aged 10, who was murdered during a demonstration against the Separation Fence at Na’ilin village – the fence that robs the village of most of its land in order to give it to the nearby settlement. A soldier aimed and shot the child with live ammunition at close range.
The protesters stood under the windows of the Minister of Defense’s apartment in the luxurious Akirov Towers in Tel-Aviv and shouted: “Ehud Barak, Minister of Defense / How many children have you murdered so far?”
A short while later, Olmert spoke about his strenuous efforts to achieve peace, and promised to continue them until his last day in office.
The two events – the demonstration and the speech – are bound together. Together they provide an accurate picture of the era: peace speeches in the air and atrocities on the ground.
I AM not about to join the choir of retrospective heroes, who are now falling upon Olmert’s political corpse and tearing it to pieces.
Not an attractive sight. I have seen this happen several times in my life, and every time it disgusts me.
This phenomenon is not particular to Israel. It can be found in the history and literature of many times and places: “The Rise and Fall of…”
It’s an old story. People grovel in the dust at the feet of their hero. The ambitious and avaricious prance around him. Court-poets and court-jesters sing his praises, and their modern successors – the media people – extol his virtues. And then, one day, he falls from his pedestal and they trample all over him without mercy and without shame.
This is the mob that idolized Moshe Dayan after the Six-day War, and then smashed his statue into pieces after the Yom-Kippur war. The mob that kicked David Ben-Gurion viciously after years of boundless flattery. That toppled Golda Meir after following her blindly. I certainly struggled against all three of them when they were at the height of their power, but the rush of the political mob to trample upon their bodies after they had fallen was simply loathsome.
Now this is happening again. I have never been captivated by the charms of Ehud Olmert. I have followed his career from the moment he appeared on the stage to the moment he announced his resignation. I saw nothing to arouse my admiration. But now, when I see and hear the outpouring of abuse upon him by those who exalted him to high heavens only yesterday, I feel like averting my eyes. The right to criticize him is reserved for those who have struggled against him over the years.
HE IS a total politician, and nothing else. Not a statesman. Not a leader. Not a man with a vision. Only a political technician. Intelligent. A very smooth speaker. I friend among friends. A politician for whom power is the aim, not a means to achieve an aim.
The first time I came across him was almost 40 years ago. He was then an assistant of Shmuel Tamir, in the most concrete sense: he assisted him in carrying his bags.
Before this, something had happened that was to characterize the whole career of this ambitious man. Tamir, then a young Knesset member for the Herut party (today’s Likud), thought he had an opportunity to topple Menachem Begin and take over the party. He tried to push him out during the party convention, and for a moment it seemed that he would succeed. Begin, then 53, seemed totally worn-out after suffering six consecutive election defeats. Olmert, then 21, jumped onto the rebels’ bandwagon and made a passionate speech against the legendary leader.
But his calculations were faulty. Begin sprang into action and delivered a death blow to the conspirators. They were thrown out of the party in disgrace. Olmert remained with the tiny faction around Tamir, which presented itself as a moderate party, attuned to the peace-seeking mood of the country at the time, mocking the nationalistic stance of Herut (“Both sides of the Jordan belong to us”). But then the Six-day War changed the public mood completely, the weathercock turned and Tamir coined the popular slogan “Liberated Territory shall not be Returned!” Without batting an eyelid, Olmert the moderate turned into Olmert the extremist.
But in that small faction there were too many chiefs and not enough Injuns. The road to advancement was blocked. Before long, Olmert engineered a split in order to become the No. 2 in an even smaller faction. He later split that one too and pushed out its veteran leader, Eliezer Shostak. The proceedings bordered on farce: Olmert ran off with the faction’s rubber stamp.
After the 1973 elections, Olmert return to the Likud at long last and became candidate No. 24 on the party’s election list. Before that he had not been idle: he finished law school and flourished financially, using his connections in the Knesset and the corridors of power for his clients’ benefit. That’s when he perfected the method of exploiting the connections between power and money, a method that he practiced ever since and that eventually caused his downfall.
In the Knesset, the young member was looking for a way to attract attention. At the time, the media invented “organized crime”, long before it came into being. (A wag jested: “In Israel, nothing is organized. So how come crime is suddenly organized?”) Olmert smelled a horse he could ride on. He made rousing speeches, waved papers in the style of Joe McCarthy, presented himself as a valiant fighter against the criminals and reaped a lot of publicity. It was an empty performance: even the police chiefs confirmed that it did not contribute anything to the struggle against crime. But it was a good example of what later came to be known as “spin”.
IN 1977, Menachem Begin came to power. But he had not the least intention of promoting the man who, 11 years earlier, had tried to stick a knife in his back. Among his other strengths, Begin had a good memory. When Olmert saw that his career in the Knesset was going nowhere, he decided in 1993 to make an Olympic jump: he declared his candidacy for the office of Mayor of Jerusalem.
Mayor Teddy Kollek was popular, but old and tired. Olmert won. Today there is general agreement about his tenure: he was a bad mayor. The city deteriorated, poverty increased, young people left for other places and the Arab neighborhoods were criminally neglected. In 1996, he pushed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu into opening a tunnel leading from the Western Wall to the Muslim quarter, causing a conflagration that killed 17 Israeli soldiers and almost 100 Palestinians. He never expressed any remorse.
He also pushed for the creation of the Har Homa settlement between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which has caused unending friction with the Palestinian community. All the recent attacks in Jerusalem were carried out by youngsters who grew up in the Arab neighborhoods adjacent to Har Homa. Olmert presented himself as the Judaizer of Jerusalem and as a fearless national fighter.
But when he ran for Likud chairman in 1999, he was easily beaten by Ariel Sharon. He got only the 32nd place on the Likud election list (out of 38 who won Knesset seats). His rational reaction was to get on Sharon’s wagon and push him into leaving the Likud and creating a new party, Kadima.
That was a successful bet, testifying to his sharp political senses. Under Sharon he became the de facto No. 2 of the new party and Sharon’s official “Deputy Prime Minister” (as a consolation prize, after Sharon could not give him the Treasury but only the far less important Ministry of Industry and Trade). At the time it looked like an empty title, but when Sharon suffered a stroke, Olmert adroitly took over his job. The long and meandering road had finally led to the summit.
SHARON’S SUCCESSOR was his opposite in almost every respect. Sharon was a rather maladroit politician and a poor speaker, but a determined leader with a clear political vision. He had an aim and strove towards it consistently. Olmert is a politician, soul and body, a complete opportunist and a smooth speaker, but lacks charisma and has no vision. He is satisfied with the routine mantra of a democratic, Jewish state.
After coming to power through the accident of Sharon’s stroke, he tried at first to look as if he was following the same path. Sharon wanted to turn Israel into a strong, compact state by annexing the settlement blocs and leaving the Arab enclaves to a weak “Palestinian state”. For this purpose he carried out the Gaza “separation”. Olmert promised to do the same in the West Bank, but gave up the idea almost immediately. Throughout his term of office he invented grandiose schemes at a dizzying rate, with each of them doing little more than providing fuel to his spin-machine.
His incompetence as a leader and commander soon revealed itself. Lebanon War II was a disastrous scandal. The media, which had applauded enthusiastically at the beginning of the war, attacked him after the event for its “faulty execution”, but ignored the main failure: the very decision to go to war without a clear and realistic aim and without a political and military strategy.
His incompetence as statesman and strategist was equaled by his competence as politician and survival artist. The fact that he held on for an additional two years after such a monumental failure testifies to his political acumen, but also to the degeneration of the Israeli political system.
After the war he was desperately in need of a new horse to ride. He chose the “political process” – negotiations with the Palestinians, and later on also with the Syrians.
This choice is significant: his sensitive political nose smelled that this is now the really popular thing: not Greater Israel, not the settlements, but peace negotiations and “two states for two peoples” – the more so as this was already popular with the US and Europe.
This week, Arab leaders complained that now “the political process will begin again from Square One.” That is a complete misunderstanding: the “process” has never left Square One. It was wholly without content, wholly “spin”. The “process” has become a substitute for peace, the idea of a “shelf agreement” a substitute for a real peace agreement. There was never any possibility that Olmert would dare to provoke the settlers.
The final summing-up of the Olmert era: not the smallest real step toward peace has been taken. The historic peace initiative of the Arab League has been buried. The secular, peace-seeking Palestinian leadership has been almost destroyed, paving the way for the Hamas takeover in the Gaza strip, and perhaps also in the West Bank. Not one single hut in a settlement was dismantled, and the settlements have been enlarged everywhere.
In one respect, Olmert resembled Sharon: they both loved money almost as much as power (as do Netanyahu and Barak). They both cultivated close relations with billionaires. They both trailed behind them a cloud of corruption wherever they went.
This did not hurt Sharon. He radiated leadership, and the scandals did not really harm him. He was robust enough to carry them on his back. Olmert, being much more fragile, was crushed by them.
In the end, he has fallen: not because of the criminal war, not because of his lack of seriousness in pursuing peace, not because of the appointment of a Minister of Justice whose aim is to destroy the judicial system, but because of cash in envelopes and free trips abroad.
WHEN FUTURE historians look for a way to characterize this chapter in the annals of the state, one word will readily present itself, the one the writer David Grossman applied in a similar context: hollow.
It was a hollow era. A hole in time. A meaningless period, devoid of content (though not for those who paid the price with their lives, destruction and ruins.)
And that is also the suitable title for Olmert himself. A hollow politician, devoid of vision.
Anyone researching the headlines of these two years will find a lot of drama there. A lot of initiatives. A lot of slogans. A lot of spin. A lot of hot air. And the sum of all this: nothing.
A hollow leader of a hollow party pursuing hollow policies in a hollow political system.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert Indicted
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: August 30, 2009
Filed at 11:28 a.m. ET
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli authorities indicted former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on corruption charges Sunday, the first criminal indictment ever filed against a current or past Israeli prime minister.
Olmert, who stepped down earlier this year over the corruption issue, is accused of illegally accepting funds from an American backer, double-billing for trips abroad and concealing funds from a government watchdog.
He faces charges that include fraud and breach of trust.
The charges filed in a Jerusalem court on Sunday first surfaced when Olmert was still prime minister, although Olmert allegedly committed the offenses while serving as mayor of Jerusalem and later as a Cabinet minister, before being elected prime minister in 2006.
Olmert, who denies any wrongdoing, issued a statement through a spokesman saying he was confident his name would be cleared. ”Olmert is convinced that in court he will be able to prove his innocence once and for all,” the statement said.
The Justice Ministry refused to detail the length of a potential sentence, but Moshe Negbi, an Israeli legal expert, said the maximum sentence on the fraud charge alone was five years.
Any political comeback by Olmert would be highly unlikely unless he is cleared. ”In the immediate future it doesn’t seem possible, but it all depends on the court,” Negbi said.
Two former Cabinet ministers recently sentenced in separate corruption cases have received multiple-year prison sentences. Avraham Hirchson, a former finance minister and an Olmert confidant and appointee, was sentenced to five years for embezzlement in June, and another former Cabinet minister was sentenced to four years for taking bribes.
The case that did the most damage to Olmert when he was still in office involved funds he allegedly accepted from Moshe Talansky, an American businessman who allegedly funneled large amounts of money to Olmert in cash-stuffed envelopes. Talansky’s testimony last year helped turn public opinion against Olmert and played a large part in forcing him from office.
The indictment said Olmert used his connections to help Talansky’s business, but did not charge Olmert with accepting bribes.
In another case, Olmert was charged with double-billing nonprofit organizations and the government for trips he took abroad and then using the extra money to pay for private trips for his family.
Olmert was replaced as prime minister in March by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. He left politics and is currently a private citizen.
The charges against Olmert were part of a slew of allegations that drove down Israeli confidence in the political system during his time in office.
In addition to the charges against Olmert’s finance minister, another Cabinet minister was convicted of sexual misconduct and the country’s former ceremonial president, Moshe Katzav, was charged by several women with rape and sexual harassment and is currently on trial.
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