Thursday, September 20, 2007

Memo to Prime Minister Olmert Re: Get Serious or Get Out of the Way

To: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
From: A concerned global citizen
Israel must begin negotiating on final status issues
cc: Pres. George W. Bush; Sec. State Condoleeza Rice; Chairman Mahamoud Abbas; Mid-East Envoy Tony Blair

Prime Minister Olmert, I will be blunt; if you want to salvage your legacy as a leader of your people, you must end your government's intransigence and foot-dragging in preparation for this Fall's peace conference with the Palestinian leadership. You must take bold steps - now - to signal to the Israeli and Palestinian populace that you possess both the will and capability to make the sacrifices that will be necessary to forge a lasting peace. If you do not possess the will, or are in fact too politically neutered to make the aforementioned hard choices, then please resign and allow Ms. Livni, your Foreign Minister, to make them for you.

I hardly need to recite the problems that you and your people currently face. Gaza, the withdrawal from which was meant to make Israel more secure, has become a bed of extremism, a security headache, and a serious obstacle to any final negotiated settlement with your neighbors. It has also given lie to the notion that Israel can unilaterally withdraw from the Palestinian territories, entirely on its own terms, and expect the conflict to end. Palestinians will need a viable state that is both legally and functionally independent from Israeli control, with the capacity to deliver dignity and prosperity to its citizens, before Israel can expect to reap any peace dividend. Furthermore, as you well know, the legitimacy of your negotiating partner - Abbas's Fatah - is fast waning. The only way it can be bolstered is through a demonstration that negotiating with Israel has the capacity to accomplish something real. Wait too long to give that demonstration, Mr. Prime Minister, and you will have nobody left with whom to speak.

Your government, in recent days, has been reluctant to speak of a peace deal in anything other than vague and general terms, calling discussion on the most difficult issues "premature." Nonsense. The basic outline of what a mutually acceptable peace deal would look like - a dismantling of all but the largest West Bank settlements, land swaps to make up for those that remain, a division of sovereignty in East Jerusalem, and material compensation to the Palestinians in exchange for annulling their "right of return" - was decided on years ago. The Devil, as always, remains in the details, but such details will not work themselves out on their own, and the more time is wasted, the more toxic and un-resolvable the situation is likely to become.

I understand the appeal of trying to focus on small, achievable interim measures. It requires less political sacrifice, and has - in theory - the potential to rebuild trust between your people and theirs. The time for such measures, though, is past. They have too often provided both sides with an excuse to obfuscate and delay discussing final status issues, the resolution of which won't magically become less difficult with time. If you desire peace, and are willing to push your people to sacrifice, now may be your last best chance to demonstrate it. If, however, your (lack of) domestic political standing prevents you from leading an effort to resolve fundamental questions of peace, if you lack the credibility to stand up to Likud and the Mafdal and Gush Emunim and everyone else at home who is an obstacle to peace because the rest of your population is too disgusted with you to lend its support, then Mr. Prime Minister you should step aside in favor of someone less tainted by past failure. That you had the courage to do so might at least add some gloss and polish to an otherwise corroded legacy.

1 comment:

Jeb Koogler said...

Well said, Matt. There is obviously a lot of debate now about how to 'undermine Hamas and strengthen Fatah.' The answer, as I think you clearly indicate in this piece, is for Israel to work closely with Abbas's government in order to achieve progress on a peace plan. This would kill two birds with one stone: it would both legitimize Fatah's more moderate approach while simultaneously undermining Hamas.