Olmert’s Speech was Notable

Taken from CALME luminary MJ Rosenberg’s IPF Friday: 

On Monday, Olmert delivered a remarkable speech at the kibbutz home of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion.

In it, Olmert spoke directly to the Palestinian people (much as Yitzhak Rabin did at the White House ceremony following the Oslo signing).

Recognizing that the Palestinians are in the process of deciding whether to form a unity government that will pursue a negotiated peace with Israel or continue with the deadly status quo, Olmert urged them to get with the program.

“You, the Palestinian people, in the south and east, in the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria, stand, these very days, on the threshold of an historic crossroads,” he said.

But then, instead of the customary list of demands which Palestinians must fulfill before Israel engages them in negotiations, Olmert told Palestinians what Israel was prepared to do if the Palestinians end violence and establish a new government committed to negotiations with and recognition of Israel.

He said that his goal is the establishment of a West Bank-Gaza Palestinian state with full territorial contiguity. For the more immediate future, he offered the release of “numerous Palestinian prisoners” in exchange for Corporal Gilad Shalit. He said Israel will “significantly diminish roadblocks, increase freedom of movement in the territories, facilitate movement of people and goods in both directions, improve the operation of the border crossings to the Gaza Strip, and release Palestinian funds for the purpose of alleviating the humanitarian hardship which many of you suffer.”

He spoke of the normalization of relations with all the Arab states in the context of successful negotiations with the Palestinians. For the first time, in the name of his government, he welcomed the Saudi initiative of 2002 and indicated willingness to work with Jordanians, Saudis, Egyptians and others to “strengthen their support of direct bilateral negotiations between us and the Palestinians.”

Naturally, not everyone in Israel is happy with Olmert’s initiative. The right is, of course, furious. But even a few on the left say that Olmert’s move is only a gambit to get the ball in the Palestinians’ court, ease international pressure on Israel, and give Israel the pretext for attacking Gaza hard if the Palestinians do not deliver.

No doubt, there is some truth in that criticism. The ball is now in the Palestinians’ court and they will have no one but themselves to blame if the cease-fire — and the process it is designed to kick start — dies on the vine.

But that is not what Olmert wants. He is not Ariel Sharon, whose vision of Israel’s future was so opaque that no outsider really knew if the goal of his unilateral Gaza withdrawal was to advance negotiations or to deter them.

Olmert’s vision of Israel’s future is clear. He wants to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to allow Israel to achieve normalcy. He is not religious and does not talk about the specialness of the Jewish people or its unique mission in the world. On the contrary, Olmert simply wants to see an Israel that is at peace – prosperous and secure. While some Israelis would shrink from the prospect of an Israel that resembles a Middle Eastern Norway, Olmert would welcome it.

And the fact is that so would the overwhelming majority of Israelis. As for the Palestinians, they are desperate to live ordinary lives.

“A state like any other.” That is what Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, wanted for the Jews. But they won’t have one unless the Palestinians do. Olmert understands that.

And that is why he announced his initiative. Hopefully, it will succeed. If it doesn’t, there will be more violence, more dead on both sides, and then another attempt at negotiating an end to the conflict.

The sooner the negotiations start, the fewer Israelis and Palestinians who will die in a war that cannot be won.

The shaky cease-fire has held for almost a week. It doesn’t sound like much. But from the point of view of the parents who did not lose children this week, it is everything.

Explore posts in the same categories: CALME Luminaries, Iran, Israel, Middle East, Middle East Peace, Palestinians, Two State Solution, U.S. Role

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