Olmert Agonistes

Ehud Olmert has found a convincing proof of his great victory over Hassan Nasrallah: “I am touring the country freely while Nasrallah is hiding in his bunker!”

It is said that “the style is the man,” and by these words Olmert shows his quality (or lack thereof). At the moment, dozens of Israeli airplanes and helicopter gunships are standing by, ready to kill Nasrallah if he as much as shows himself. Nasrallah does not have a single airplane or helicopter to kill Olmert. The vast material superiority of the Israeli army over a guerilla organization is no achievement of Olmert – but Hizbullah’s ability to survive the massive onslaught of our army is certainly the achievement of Nasrallah.

And, by the way, why would Nasrallah want to kill Olmert? After all, why should he mind Israel being led by a failed politician, whose incompetence has been proved and who most Israelis say should go?

A cynic might say: Nasrallah wants Olmert to stay, and that’s why he hurried to help him out. When everyone in Israel believed that Olmert had failed miserably, Nasrallah said, this week, in an interview: “If I had known that Israel would react as it did, I would not have captured the two soldiers.”

As could be expected, Olmert’s men pounced on this sentence. Look: Nasrallah is apologizing! That proves that he has been beaten! So Olmert won after all!

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BUT MOST Israelis do not buy this spin. They still believe that we did not win the war, that the deterrent power of the Israeli army has been hurt, that the Lebanese army and the International Force that will be employed along the border will not do our job for us after our own army failed to do it.

So what to do when the public believes that it is being led by a group of political and military failures?

That is the great question that is now occupying the entire nation. A few dozen reserve soldiers and civilians demonstrate opposite the Prime Minister’s office, others sit at home and gripe. They know that Olmert, Peretz and Halutz must be removed. But how can this be done?

The obvious answer is to get out into the street and demonstrate. If hundreds of thousands filled the squares, perhaps Olmert would resign, as Golda Meir did in her day. However, Olmert is no Golda, and even Golda clung to office for half a year after her dismal failures of the Yom Kippur War. And where are the hundreds of thousands?

Another possibility is to appoint a State Inquiry Commission, which could dismiss the trio. That’s good, that’s even very good, but that’s difficult. According to the law, only the government can decide to set up such a commission, and only the government can decide on the commission’s terms of reference. Only after such a decision is made, does the matter pass into the hands of the President of the Supreme Court, who then decides upon the composition of the commission.

Such an inquiry demands, of course, time. Before it can accuse anyone of failure, it must warn them, allow them to be represented by lawyers, to cross-examine witnesses and provide documents, and that’s a slow process. In the meantime, the incompetents will continue to rule and perhaps even start another war, in order to make us forget the last one. Even if the commission were to publish an interim report, that would take half a year at least.

But Olmert & Co. are not prepared to risk even that. That’s why they appointed two inquiry committees this week that are not State Inquiry Commissions, allowing them to decide their membership themselves. No inquiry committee demands the dismissal of the people who appointed them.

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WHAT OTHER way is there to get rid of this trio?

The simplest thing is to have new elections. But that is not as easy as it sounds. Only the Knesset can decide to do that. Meaning, the Knesset Members must decide to dismiss themselves. Fat chance.

Moreover, as things look now, if elections were to take place in the present situation, the Right would win big. The voice of the peace camp was completely silenced during the war, and now, too, it has no exposure in the media. As a result, the criticism of the war that is being heard comes almost entirely from the Right. The public is not asking: Why did we start this war? It asks: Why did we not win? And it answers: The corrupt politicians did not allow the army to win. A new government is needed, a rightist and patriotic one, in order to rehabilitate the army and start another war to finish the job.

The setting up of a new government without elections, in the present Knesset, would lead to the same result, because the only alternative to the current setup is a coalition that would include the Likud and at least one of the two fascist parties. No good.

Another possibility: to leave the present coalition in office but to replace Olmert and Peretz. How? By a revolt in Kadima that would replace Olmert and a revolt in Labor to replace Peretz. In Labor there is indeed such a possibility. But who would revolt in Kadima, a fictitious grouping that has no party institutions at all?

To resume: there are in theory several options – all of them bad. This fact splits the “protest camp”. Some protesters demand a State Inquiry Commission, whatever the cost. Others want the Gang of Three – Olmert, Peretz and Halutz – to resign without any inquiry. What the two groups have in common is that they are supported by the extreme Right, and especially the settlers, who declare, according to the best tradition of the inventors of the “stab-in-the-back” legend in Germany after World War I: “The treasonous politicians have stabbed the victorious army in the back!”

By the way, the total number of demonstrators is very much smaller than the thousands that the peace camp mobilized in the middle of the war to protest against it.

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SO WHAT will happen? One can only answer with the saying: The art of prophecy is difficult, especially with respect to the future.

It is impossible at this moment to know what is going to happen in the near future. But it is worthwhile to think about the impact of the war on public opinion in the longer run.

When Samson the Hero saw a swarm of bees making honey in the carcass of a lion he ramarked: “Out of the strong came forth sweetness.” (Judges 14). (That’s the same Samson who was abducted by the Philistines and became the first suicide bomber in the history of this country.) Can this phrase become true this time too? Can something good come out of this horrible war?

Perhaps. True, for the time being the result of this war in Israel has only been feelings of anger, frustration, insult and humiliation: Why couldn’t we overcome a small “terror organization”? Our political leaders have proved to be foolish, our military leaders incompetent. Things must be put in order.

But I believe that gradually a new conviction will form in the public mind: that this war marks the end of the days of easy victories. That from now on, in any new war our rear will be exposed. That our army is not almighty, as we were led to believe. And mainly: that the war did not solve anything, that perhaps the solution is not military and we would do better talking with our neighbors.

True, it is not easy to arrive at such a conclusion, which demands an emotional and ideological revolution. That will take time. But one need not be a university professor to get there. Simple common sense is enough, as well as the experience that has accumulated during the last decades. Many people, including those usually described as “the common people”, have both, thank God.

Those who complain that the Second Lebanon War was stopped before it was finished, should note the success of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.




URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.