January 11, 2006


Can the 'Prince' Lead Israel? (David Ignatius, January 11, 2006, Washington Post)

[I]n framing the issues that led to Israel's withdrawal from Gaza last year, the deputy prime minister showed a level of strategic vision and political guts that outdid his boss, Ariel Sharon. [...]

Olmert played a trailblazing role three years ago in proposing a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank. At the time, Israelis were reeling from a failed peace process, a wave of suicide bombings and a growing sense of despair about the country's political future. Olmert argued in a November 2003 interview with the newspaper Haaretz that to survive and prosper as a Jewish state, Israel must pull back from its settlements in Gaza and most of the West Bank. If Israel tried to hold on to the territories it occupied in the 1967 war, Jews would soon be outnumbered by Palestinians and Israel would lose its soul.

Olmert didn't mince words in his 2003 interview: "There is no doubt in my mind that very soon the government of Israel is going to have to address the demographic issue with the utmost seriousness and resolve," he said. "In the absence of a negotiated agreement -- and I do not believe in the realistic prospect of an agreement -- we need to implement a unilateral alternative."

That became the strategic logic for Sharon's policy of disengagement, but the prime minister never stated it as boldly or clearly as his deputy. Olmert stressed that to make disengagement work, Israel would have to pull back far enough to maintain an 80-20 ratio of Jews to Arabs within its borders, and that it would have to pull out of some Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. These were issues that Sharon fudged, to the day he was rushed to the hospital.

The question is whether Israelis are ready to trust withdrawal to a guy without a proven track record of killing Arabs when the need arises. Barring another war, they have to sooner or later.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 11, 2006 8:22 AM

Paging Shaul Mofaz, to the white courtesy phone

Posted by: narciso at January 11, 2006 9:42 AM

Palis are bankrupt and won't be able to make payroll.

Now it gets really interesting. If they're too busy fighting amongts themselves, it'll give Israel a little breathing space and really focus on Iran.

Posted by: Sandy P at January 11, 2006 9:51 AM

At the same time, the fact that Olmert was willing to stick his neck out on this issue is a sign of decisive leadership that may inspire people to vote for him. I think more important than a war record, is that people see he is a leader with a plan.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at January 11, 2006 10:33 AM