30 September 2008

Olmert Speaks Out

Imagine any other news week. We'd have spent the last 96 hours talking about hostages in Egypt, Chinese milk, and the death of an icon, Paul Newman. Instead, all I've heard the past week and weekend has to do with our financial crisis and the campaign circus.

So it's no surprise to me that outgoing Israeli PM Ehud Olmert's comments, published in Israel yesterday, got pretty well buried under news of the sliding Dow. What he said, though, qualifies as pretty big news.

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.”

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?”

. . . The government’s public stand on Jerusalem until now has been to assert that the status of the city was not under discussion. But Mr. Olmert made clear that the eastern, predominantly Arab, sector had to be yielded “with special solutions” for the holy sites.

. . . Elsewhere in the interview, when discussing a land swap with the Palestinians, he said the exchange would have to be “more or less one to one.”

. . . 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.”
Wow. That last is a doozy, though hardly the most controversial thing Olmert said. A divided Jerusalem is regularly regarded as a nonstarter for Israeli discussions. The suggestion that Iran does not pose a threat serious enough for Israel to take unsanctioned military action should come up in the VP debate this Thursday back here in the States. Obviously, Olmert's street value is minimal right now, but the expression of these views are huge. The Israeli daily Haaretz runs a column today assessing Olmert as an "excellent commentator" who "lacked the firmness to execute his ideas."

It's no secret that growing numbers of Israelis are disenchanted with the current state of war and peace in Israel, and that there is also concern for the human rights questions surrounding Israel's isolation of the Palestinian people. Olmert's comments, as the Israeli columnist Aluf Benn points out, would have been so much more valuable a year, two years, three years ago. Imagine reading Olmert like this, instead of Olmert hawking for war with Hezbollah which looked more like war with Lebanon itself.

Since, of course, we're consumed with the financial crisis and the race for the White House, I suppose one could hope at least to get some mention of these comments as they pertain to the current state of the U.S. presidential race. I can find no reaction from the McCain camp to Olmert's comments, but since theirs is the campaign built on not questioning Israel, it seems like asking some pointed questions in that direction, this week, should be fair game.