I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Ehud Olmert has been promising to meet Mahmoud Abbas for what seems like years now. They had an informal lunch together last June, but never met for substantive negotiations. Most of the time Olmert has spent his energies proclaiming the time wasn’t quite right; or he would say he wanted to meet but never set a meeting. Bloggers like me have been calling for such a meeting for ages and in vain.
So what did it take to break Olmert out of his pleasant slumber? Shame. Well, maybe shame is the wrong word for it because shame indicates that you have a feeling of genuine remorse for something you’ve done. I don’t think Olmert in reality has an ounce of remorse for the cold blooded killing of 18 civilians lying asleep in their homes earlier this week. But like the cynical politician he is he knows when his side has committed a real bonehead move and is willing to feign concern and contrition. So Olmert has offered to meet Abbas, and talks as if he is prepared to negotiate. But we’ve heard similar sentiments before and never seen a hard date attached to the sentiment. Perhaps this disastrous incident has moved things onto a new plane:
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel offered to ease tensions by meeting the Palestinian president “anytime, anyplace.”
“I am very uncomfortable with this event,” Mr. Olmert said at a business conference in Tel Aviv. “I’m very distressed.”
Saying that he had personally investigated the artillery strike, which spurred Hamas to warn that it might resume suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, Mr. Olmert called the shelling Wednesday a “mistake” caused by technical failure. And he urged Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to meet with him immediately.
“He will be surprised when he will sit with me of how far we are prepared to go,” he said. “I can offer him a lot.”
He did not explain what he meant. But his words seemed to reflect deep embarrassment at the deaths, mostly of women and children. The strike was condemned around the world, but also by many Israelis who are concerned about the number of civilians killed in Israeli operations to curb rocket fire by Palestinian militants into Israel.
Mr. Olmert’s statement also seemed to reposition the deaths — the largest single loss of life among Palestinians in years — into the realm of politics.
So Olmert can offer Abbas “a lot.” Hmmm. I’ve never seen Ehud Olmert or Ariel Sharon offer a Palestinian leader “a lot.” So that is an entirely dubious proposition. But again, this is far more than Olmert’s ever been willing to say on this subject. So let’s look at it as a guardedly optimistic development.
One also unfortunately has to take into account this could be yet another ploy by Olmert to buy time and thus allow international furor to subside over the massacre. Then Israel can return to its previous grisly strategy of shelling Gaza into submission while physically strangling it as well. The operative policy is to delay and stall until conditions turn favorable for continued stonewalling
Abbas has not yet responded. If I were him I’d tear a page from the Bush-Rice-Lebanon playbook and reply that the time “isn’t quite right” for such negotiations. And that if there are to be negotiations they have to be ones that will result in a permanent resolution of the conflict. Hey, if it was good enough for Lebanon why not good enough for Israel too? I’m serious though in the sense that Abbas does not NEED to meet with Olmert for a photo op. We’re beyond atmospherics. We need, tachlis (substance). So until Olmert is ready to talk tachlis, why meet? And that’s been Abbas’ position entirely:
[Abbas] has refused other such open-ended offers, saying that he wanted a concrete deal first on the prisoners and a meeting of “substance.”
Read this and weep at the obtuseness of the IDF in explaining away their “mistake:”
the Israeli military issued its first detailed explanation of what went wrong with the shelling, saying an aiming radar had malfunctioned, causing the rounds to hit a cluster of civilians’ houses.
Maj. Avital Leibovich, an army spokeswoman, said that a first volley of 13 shells had been aimed at an orange grove concealing rocket launchers and landed just under a mile away from the houses. A second barrage of 11 rounds, she said, was “aimed 400 meters away from where they hit.”
“What we know from aerial photos is that two houses were hit directly,” she said. “Our estimate is that 5 or 6 shells of the 11 hit two houses.”
She added that, as is standard practice, the system was tested on targets before being used and that it had functioned properly.
Yes, but what she neglects to mention (but which is mentioned in Haaretz) is that the test firing she speaks of was done 12 hours before the actual barrage. In other words, the battery relied on a test it had done hours earlier rather than right before the moment of live firing. Wind intensity and direction changes, sometimes radically. If you had to do a job as precise as firing artillery shells at a target in a densely populated urban area would you be willing to trust in such sloppy, slipshod methods? The Haaretz article points out that senior IDF officers with whom it consulted were horrified to hear this news.
You can say “accident” all you want. But when do negligence and incompetence rise to the level of criminality and murder? We’ve come VERY close this time if not crossed the threshold.