Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s official farewell speech was not just a historic address, but rather the words of a man who brought down the walls of the temple on himself and those around him. His speech, in which he attacks the extremist settlers, signals the end of the Israeli dream of a ‘Greater Israel’.
Olmert was one of the hawks on the Israeli political scene, a former mayor of Jerusalem and an advocate of some of the most hard-line Israeli policies to be recorded in history, the same man who once stated, ‘We reject reality. We reject the reading of any map which that tells us clearly that time is not on our side’. Olmert’s words were important then just as they are now, even though he is a man on his way out of political power and facing accusations of corruption.
Olmert said in his speech, ‘We believed that we were entitled, but we did not see the bigger picture. I myself was wrong…I thought that the promised land was to be found between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, a land for Jews and Jews alone. We excavated in the ground and found Jewish relics everywhere and believed that this meant that the historical truth was on our side. And yet in the end, after much suffering, we have reached the conviction that we must share the land. We do not want one country for two peoples’
This means that Olmert is now ignoring the right-wing Israeli argument for the justification of Israel’s occupation of Arab lands, and yet Olmert’s revelation has not occurred as a result of fear of the Palestinians, but rather as a result of the fear of the current demographic make-up of Israel.
The matter does not end here though, for despite what Olmert said in his speech, it is notable that he did not dare to make it in front of the peace mediators, in particular the United States of America. It is true that Bush is the first American President to call for a two state solution; however Olmert’s speech also condemned Washington. Opposing the previous Israeli and American political sentiments that there are no realistic peace partners to be found in Palestine or Syria, President Olmert said ‘In fact today there exists viable partners for peace, both in Palestine and Syria’.
Olmert dropped another bombshell when he acknowledged that the best way to confront the lack of support for peace-talks in the region is to complete the peace process on the basis that ‘facing forces like these will result in a stronger and more successful peace which we will make with the majority of Palestinians’.
This is sentiment that our region’s countries share, and that Washington rejects, it is this sentiment that turned a Saudi peace initiative into a pan-Arab initiative. And so in spite of the stubborn American media-outlets and political institutions who following the events of 9/11, decided to forsake the peace process, and instead rallied Washington into dedicating itself to rooting out terrorism, which rather than being an inherent flaw in the fabric of Arab society, is a result of the ongoing conflict in the region.
What Olmert said will not restore Palestine or the occupied territories, nor will it erase his previous actions in the region, yet it gives the Arabs a document which proves that Israel’s transgressions are responsible for prolonging the conflict in the Middle East.
Certainly we too have made mistakes, but Olmert’s remarks are important because they return an initiative to the Palestinian cause which had previously been lacking, and allow all Palestinians to ask as one for peace. And so are the Palestinians finally ready to put their house in order so that they can move forward and realize their dreams? Ultimately, that is the question.