“The United States has been wrong to write Israel a blank check every year; wrong to turn a blind eye to the settlements in the West Bank; wrong not to be more explicit about the need to divide Jerusalem; wrong to equip us with weaponry so sophisticated we now believe military might is the answer to all our problems; and wrong in not helping us reach out to Syria. Your chosen secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said during the campaign that ‘the United States stands with Israel, now and forever.’ Well, that’s not good enough. You need to stand against us sometimes so we can avoid the curse of eternal militarism.”
Perhaps that seems unimaginable. But Olmert has already said something close to this. In a frank September interview with the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, reprinted this month by The New York Review of Books, the Israeli leader chose to exit with a mea culpa for his country’s policies.
Those policies have been encouraged by the Bush administration, whose war on terror was embraced by the Israeli government as a means to frame Israel’s confrontation with the Palestinians as part of the same struggle. No matter that Al Qaeda and the Palestinian national movement are distinct. The facile conflation got Bush in lock step with whatever Israel did.
So, by saying Israel has been wrong, Olmert was also saying the United States has been wrong, even if he never mentioned America.
What Olmert, who appears on the verge of indictment for fraud, did say in his “soul searching on behalf of the nation of Israel” was that he had made “mistakes” as a former right-wing hard-liner and that military power will not deliver his 60-year-old country from existential anguish.
“We could contend with any of our enemies or against all our enemies combined and win,” Olmert said. “The question that I ask myself is, what happens when we win? First of all, we’d have to pay a painful price. And after we paid the price, what would we say to them? ‘Let’s talk.’ ”
Olmert is now convinced of the need to settle with the Palestinians and Syria through giving up parts of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The fact such views come from a former Likudnik is a measure of how the political ground has shifted in Israel ahead of elections early next year.
I think Olmert’s words should be emblazoned on the wall of Hillary Clinton’s eighth-floor State Department office: “We must reach an agreement with the Palestinians, meaning a withdrawal from nearly all, if not all, of the territories. Some percentage of these territories would remain in our hands, but we must give the Palestinians the same percentage elsewhere — without this, there will be no peace.”
Asked if this included a compromise on Jerusalem, Olmert said, “Including Jerusalem.”
He also declared, “I’d like to know if there’s a serious person in the state of Israel who believe that we can make peace with the Syrians without, in the end, giving up the Golan Heights.” Those words should go up on Clinton’s wall, too.
For Olmert, “holding this or that hill” is “worthless” and Israeli generals are deluded in clinging to them.
These ideas will sit uneasily with the pro-Israel constituency that Clinton has dealt with as a Democratic senator for the state of New York. Nobody’s been more solidly pro-Israel than she. But to be effective, she must become a tough taskmaster in the name of Olmert’s compromises. That is in the best long-term interest of Israel.
Clinton noted during the campaign that the United States could “obliterate” Iran if it launched a nuclear attack on Israel. Olmert chose different language. He noted “a megalomania and a loss of proportion in the things said here about Iran.” Once again, his words are instructive.
I am fiercely attached to Israel’s security. Everything depends, however, on how that security is viewed. Israel can continue humiliating the Palestinians, flaunting its power with a bully’s braggadocio. It will survive that way — and be desperately corroded from within. Neither domination nor demography favors Israel over time.
Its moral authority is already compromised by a 40-year occupation. The Diaspora Jew did not go to Zion to build the Jew among nations.
This is the reality behind Olmert’s warning that “we have a window of opportunity — a short amount of time.” This is the reality behind his appeal to “designate a final and exact borderline between us and the Palestinians.”
For that, Palestinians must also compromise, especially on the right of return, and they must renounce terrorism. Return must essentially mean return to a new and viable Palestinian state.
Getting to such a two-state deal at, or close to, the 1967 borders will require concerted U.S. involvement from day one of the Obama administration. Its tone should be one of tough love, with the emphasis on tough.