Israel`s prime ministers are judged by their performance on issues of peace and security. On these issues, Ehud Olmert was one of the worst prime ministers in Israel`s history. Ironically, this statement, as harsh as it is, probably finds great deal of consensus across Israel`s divergent political map. Each part of the political map in Israel has its own reasons for giving Olmert such low grades. I will focus on mine.
Is Israel closer to peace following Olmert than we were prior to his falling into the prime minister`s chair? The answer is a definite `no.` Before the 2006 elections Olmert promised that by 2010 he would set Israel`s final borders. This was a promise that Israel would have internationally recognized borders on its east, with the Palestinians and in the north, with Syria. Olmert promised to make every effort to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority President in search for an agreement.
In the Bush-initiated Annapolis summit of November 2007 Olmert delivered one of the best Israeli peace speeches ever made by an Israeli head of state. Here are some of his best remarks: `I came here today not in order to settle historical accounts between us and you about what caused the confrontations and the hatred, and what for many years has prevented a compromise, a settlement of peace. I want to tell you from the bottom of my heart that I acknowledge… your people, too, have suffered for many years; and there are some who still suffer. We know that this pain and this humiliation are the deepest foundations which fomented the ethos of hatred toward us. We are not indifferent to this suffering. We are not oblivious to the tragedies that you have experienced.
`The negotiations will address all of the issues which we have thus far avoided dealing with. We will do this directly, openly and courageously. We will not avoid any subject. We will deal with all the core issues. When the negotiations are concluded, I believe that we shall be able to arrive at an agreement that will fulfill the vision expressed by President Bush: two states for two peoples, a peace-seeking Palestinian state, a viable, strong, democratic and terror-free state for the Palestinian people; and the state of Israel, Jewish and democratic, living in security and free from the threat of terrorism, the national home of the Jewish people.`
THE PROMISE was great, the delivery far from the words. Olmert did establish two tracks of direct negotiations. One track was between himself and Palestinian President Abbas. The second track led by Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian prime minister Abu Ala`. It was widely reported that Olmert and Abbas developed a close rapport, and that great progress was made. The closest confidants of both sides admit that nothing was put in writing. In the end, Olmert presented a `take it or leave it` deal to Abbas which was not the product of a negotiated agreement, but more like the same arrogant approach taken by Ehud Barak in Camp David in July 2000. The deal that he offered Abbas could not be accepted by any Palestinian leader anywhere because it failed to include a permanent status arrangement that recognizes Palestinian Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. Without this there will never be peace with the Palestinians.
On negotiations with Abbas, Olmert`s grade is: failure! Olmert also blocked an agreement on the Livni-Abu Ala` track as well. On this track they were working on drafting an agreement. Progress was made, but the gaps were still too wide to be completed by the end of Olmert`s term.
On working together with Livni and other cabinet members in advancing Israel`s interests, Olmert`s grade is: failure! Olmert continued to breach the trust of the Palestinians and of the Quartet, including the US, by not only continuing the construction of new settlement homes and roads but by even increasing the pace of the building. Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was frustrated by the settlement issue over and over. According to insiders in Washington, President George Bush shared that frustration. On implementing Israel`s international obligations and commitments under the Road Map, Olmert`s grade is: failure!
FAILURE TO MAKE peace is one issue, but making war twice where both were `wars of choice` puts Olmert`s grade way below the failing score. Military might is an arm of political decision making and international relations. Wars aim to achieve both military achievements, such as capturing territory, and equally important, political and strategic gains. There is little argument regarding the failure of the Lebanon war. This war clearly worsened Israel`s strategic position in the region. It was an unnecessary war which produced no positive political outcomes for Israel. On the war in Lebanon, Olmert`s grade is: failure!
The war in Gaza, which was supported by an overwhelming 94% of the Israeli Jewish public failed to achieve even the goals that Olmert articulated. Has Israeli deterrence been rebuilt? Perhaps, but at what price? Is the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians part of the moral code of the Israeli army? Is Israel stronger after these two wars? My answer is a loud `no.` Israel, by its own hands, has weakened the moderates in the region, including Abbas, King Abdallah II of Jordan, Husni Mubarak of Egypt, Fouad Seniora of Lebanon and even King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia. At the same time these two wars have strengthened the likes of Hasan Nasrallah, Khaled Mashaal, the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan and Egypt and even the Islamic movement at home, here in Israel. Olmert brought upon us the anger of the world. New waves of anti-Semitism swept through Europe, Asia and even North America. Israel`s allies like Turkey responded with disdain. Now we even understand that the Turkish Prime Minister on the eve of the Gaza war was on the verge of bringing about a breakthrough in the Israeli-Syrian track. On the war in Gaza, Olmert`s grade is: failure!
I know first-hand that Olmert had a real alternative to the war in Gaza. Instead of the war there could have been a secret direct back channel for talks with Hamas that would have enabled the extension of the ceasefire, the end of the economic siege of Gaza and the return of Gilad Schalit in exchange for the same prisoner release that could have brought him home. On the return of Gilad Schalit, Olmert`s grade is: failure! Olmert has one last chance to redeem some part of his failing report card – Schalit. He has a few more days in office to make the right decision and to bring Gilad home. It is clear that Netanyahu does not want to be left with this inheritance. This is the only thing that Olmert can still do that may elicit, at least from me – thank you for your service.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.