Ehud, where were you when we needed you to say these things? Why now, when you no longer have the power to implement them? At any rate, here are words that are painful to read if only because the man uttering them could’ve changed history if he had done so while he still had the power to make them come true:
Israel should withdraw from nearly all territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war in return for peace with the Palestinians and Syria, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was quoted on Monday as telling a newspaper.
The N.Y. Times translates additional passages from the interview:
“What I am saying to you now has not been said by any Israeli leader before me,” Mr. Olmert told the newspaper Yediot Aharonot in the interview on the occasion of the Jewish new year, observed from Monday evening till Wednesday evening. “The time has come to say these things.”
He said that traditional Israeli defense strategists had learned nothing from past experiences and that they seemed stuck in the considerations of the 1948 war of independence.
“With them, it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories and controlled territories and this hilltop and that hilltop,” he said. “All these things are worthless.”
Here Olmert rejects the extremist settler strategy of groups like the Hilltop Youth who have been instrumental in establishing scores of new, illegal outposts:
He added, “Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel’s basic security?”
Over the last year, Mr. Olmert has publicly castigated himself for his earlier right-wing views and he did so again in this interview. On Jerusalem, for example, he said: “I am the first who wanted to enforce Israeli sovereignty on the entire city. I admit it. I am not trying to justify retroactively what I did for 35 years. For a large portion of these years, I was unwilling to look at reality in all its depth.”
In spite of the fact that I have written many negative things about Olmert here, I have great respect and empathy for the sentiment behind these words:
…“A decision has to be made,” he said. “This decision is difficult, terrible, a decision that contradicts our natural instincts, our innermost desires, our collective memories, the prayers of the Jewish people for 2,000 years.”
Olmert concedes what Israeli public opinion has already come to accept–that East Jerusalem must eventually come under Palestinian sovereignty:
…Mr. Olmert made clear that the eastern, predominantly Arab, sector had to be yielded “with special solutions” for the holy sites.
Here, Olmert concedes that Israel will essentially have to return to 1967 borders:
…On peace with the Palestinians, Mr. Olmert said in the interview: “We face the need to decide but are not willing to tell ourselves, yes, this is what we have to do. We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories. We will leave a percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace.”
Rather extraordinarily, regarding Iran, Olmert rejected what had appeared to be Israeli policy that an attack on Iran was not only feasible, but perhaps inevitable:
On Iran, Mr. Olmert said Israel would act within the international system, adding: “Part of our megalomania and our loss of proportions is the things that are said here about Iran. We are a country that has lost a sense of proportion about itself.”
I remember reading a blog post Bernard Avishai wrote about his own experience with Olmert. The former said he found Olmert to be a charming and captivating individual. Avishai even admired him and enjoyed his company a great deal, though he didn’t agree with him. After reading this, I can completely understand how this might be possible. In this interview, we see a man attempting to liberate himself from the political shackles that have enchained him for decades. He knows what should be done and articulates it clearly.
And yet, Olmert’s political career is a real tragedy. Instead of being the Israeli DeGaulle, he has fallen far short. At least DeGaulle implemented his reformed vision of what was necessary when he extricated France from Algeria. The best Olmert could do was tell us what needs to be done without being able to help us do it. It is a frustrating political legacy.
My hope is that Tzipi Livni can build upon these insights and that unlike Olmert, who did not get to the Promised Land, she will. She appears to be as intelligent and perceptive as Olmert about these issues. Let us hope so.
Tonight starts the Jewish New Year. Let us hope for a year of peace that all sides in this conflict have long deserved. Amen.