Ehud Olmert at the IPF dinner. The IPF caption below this picture (at http://www.ipforum.org/display.cfm?rid=1670) quotes Olmert: "We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies…."
He calls the withdrawal "a remarkable process … that will have an enormous impact on everything that will happen thereafter, in the State of Israel and in the Middle East." He emphasizes its unilateral nature: "we don't have to wait anymore, that we really don't need the United States to lead the process in the Middle East, we will lead this process in the Middle East." He then soars with this theme of leadership:
We will lead it because it's good for us. And we will lead it because it may do good to the Palestinians. And we believe that if it will be good for us and will be good for the Palestinians, then it will be good. It will bring more security, greater safety, much more prosperity, and a lot of joy for all the people that live in the Middle East. … Everything depends on the success of this disengagement.
Then comes the plaintive Song of Oslo that I never expected to hear from a leader of Likud:
And we all desperately need it. We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies, we want that we will be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies. We want them to be our friends, our partners, our good neighbors.
For all the talk of a grizzled, post-Oslo realistic approach to the Palestinians, Olmert still proffers some old (and one would think discredited) hopes, saying this friendship
is within reach if we will be smart, if we will dare, if we will be prepared to take the risks, and if we will be able to convince our Palestinian partners to be able to do the same. So that together we will move forward in this direction of building up different relations, better understanding, and greater trust between us and them.
In an insight into the Sharon camp's thinking, Olmert explains the logic of the withdrawal:
We have reached the conclusion that this is essential in order to change the realities and to move forward to break the status quo, and to start something that ultimately will lead to a new dialogue between us and the Palestinians.
Oh, in other words, the hopes of Oslo really do live on. Further confirmation of Likud's ascent to Cloud Cuckoo Land comes next:
we know that there is no alternative and we pray that the Palestinians will understand that there is no alternative. And if they will understand what we know now than things will change. And we will spare no effort in order to convince them, not by fighting with them, not by killing them, not by reaching out for their leaders, but by sitting with them, and talking with them, and helping them, and cooperating with them, and partnering with them in order to establish a new foundation for economic growth, for cooperation, for the improvement of the quality of life of the Palestinians and the Israelis, so that the Middle East will indeed become what it was destined to be from the outset, a paradise for all the world.
It does not get much more woolly-minded than that.
Olmert ends by praying that with the removal of all Israelis from Gaza, "a new morning of great hope will emerge in our part of the world." He also prays that "the Palestinian leadership will seize this opportunity, will become as responsible as they need to be, will manifest courage and determination."
Comment: (1) I have known and thought well of Olmert for years (see my 1997 interview with him, "I Am the Most Privileged Jew in the Universe"); I can't imagine what has happened to him.
(2) I see Olmert roughly in the role to Sharon in 2005 as Peres was to Rabin in 1993.
(3) Although the Gaza gambit is portrayed as unilateral, the above speech sure sounds like a plea for the Palestinians to respond in kind. In other words, it's really just another Israeli concession in hopes of winning a later reward from the Palestinians.
(4) "A new morning of great hope"? Forgive me for the interjecting a note of realism, but the whole of Oslo proved one thing clearly, that unilateral concessions by Israel to its enemies makes things worse, not better for Israel. So it will be, I predict, this time. (June 9, 2005)
Aug. 28, 2005 update: That "new morning of great hope" may already have ended. Today, at 8:30 a.m. Israel time, less than a week after the Gaza withdrawal's completion, a suicide bomber identified as as Ayman Zakik, 25, from near Hebron attacked the Beersheba bus station with the intent to murder as many Israelis as he could. Thanks to the quick action of two guards, he could only blow himself up outside the station and so appears not to have killed anyone, though the two guards are fighting for their lives. It amazes me that anyone could have "great hope," given the ferocious rhetoric and intense planning of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to attack Israel as soon as the withdrawal ended.
Jan. 4, 2006 update: In the wake of Sharon's physical disability, Olmert has taken over has acting prime minister of Israel and, in a sense, history is repeating itself. Peres led Rabin to the Oslo diplomacy and took over when Rabin was assassinated. Olmert led Sharon to the Gaza withdrawal and now takes over when Sharon is hospitalized. We shall see how far the parallel will continue.
Aug. 24, 2006 update: In the wake of Israel's not winning its war against Hizbullah, Olmert's "tired of winning" comments of a year earlier are being recalled, for example in Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, "Olmert Slammed For Being 'Tired of Winning'" and P. David Hornik, "Israel's New Hope?"
Nov. 5, 2007 update: Olmert has done himself one better, with a statement of defeatism likely to go down in the quote books: "Peace is achieved through concessions. We all know that." This pronouncement came in a speech on the twelfth anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination.
Nov. 30, 2007 update: At a certain point, one ceases to be surprised, but Olmert's ability to astonish remains strong. From an interview with Ha'aretz:
If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished. The Jewish organizations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents.
Mar. 26, 2009 update: As Ehud Olmert soon shuffles off the political stage, Efraim Inbar offers a stinging assessment of his record in "Olmert's Palestinian Failures." Its summary:
Ehud Olmert lurched from unilateralism to final status negotiations to military conflict with the Palestinians, and failed in all three tracks. His failure in dealing effectively with Hamas in Gaza is the most strategically ominous. As Olmert departs, he bequeaths to his successors the need to deal with Hamas in Gaza and to grope for alternative ways to address the perennial Palestinian question in the West Bank. He did not move Israel further ahead on either front.
Aug. 30, 2013 update: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has taken a leaf from Olmert's book, saying in reference to a possible attack on the Syria government for its use of chemical weapons nine days ago: "after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war. Believe me, I am too. But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility. Just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about."