Olmert's speech to congress was nearly perfect. I was impressed. I had to stay late at work the night before to cover the press conference he held with Bush after their first meeting at the White House, so I was expecting a little more of the same.
He was nervous at Tuesday night's press conference. They both were. Bush slammed out another winning analysis when, following his statement on how conflicts can be resolved through negotiations on both sides, he thoughtfully looked up and drawled, "the only problem is that Hamas [pause] doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist."
Here were two of the strongest leaders in the world talking about peace, and negotiations, with Olmert even promising a state in 3 or 4 years, and not four hours earlier the House of Representatives ruled in a sweeping vote of 361 to 37 to choke as severely as possible any aid flow into the Palestinian territories, while in Europe, the rest of the western powers were working out a plan to funnel aid to the Palestinian people without feeding Hamas.
Olmert's address to congress was smooth. He had pizzaz. He said all the right things to appease all sides, and piss off all sides, and painted himself as Sharon's heir, the hardened Israeli prime minister who's seen it all, loves his people, and of course, is concerned about the plight of his neighbors.
To the same House of Representatives that voted to further limit aid to Palestinian, Olmert said, "the Palestinians will forever be our neighbors. They are an inseparable part of this land, as are we. Israel has not desired to rule over them, nor to oppress them. They, too, have a right for freedom and national aspirations."
Right for freedom and national aspirations. In a non-state with a crumbled infra-structure, constant in-fighting and near starvation in cramped refugee camps, obsessed with the idea of their national pride, their homeland, and their struggle. A struggle inherent to Israel's struggle, its freedom and national aspirations.
Like elections, it's impossible to take Olmert at his word. He is not the hardened Israeli general turned prime minister of the past. He is the former disappointing mayor of Jerusalem, the former deputy prime minister everybody held at arm's length. He is riding on the victory of a man who died at the prime of his career, a prime 180 degrees away from where he promised he would be during his own corrupt election campaigns.
A friend of mine on a three-week leadership program in Israel told me that the one thing he's gotten out of his trip is the realization that no solution is possible in this conflict. Interesting because when he asked me what I've gotten out of my work this year, the first thing that came to mind was the realization that a solution is completely possible. Despite all the variables, including the temperments of our leaders.
Abbas proposed, and Hamas rejected, an idea to pose a referendum to Palestinians on whether to accept a state based on the 1967 borders. It was a strange propasal and an obvious reaction from Hamas. Such a referendum is meaningless. A Palestinian referendum on the borders of its state would by nature be a referendum on the borders of Israel's state, and in this conflict, neither entity can unilaterally determine the borders of another state.
A solution is possible. Maybe a temporary solution, like the others, to tide us over a few years, or even decades, before the next war. But there won't be a solution as long as each side refuses to compromise. We've heard this before. If Palestinians will agree only to a state set at 1967 borders and Israel will agree only to withdrawal as long as it does not require retreating to exact 1967 borders, then the current situation will persist. In the meantime, Israel's promise to withdraw becomes more generous by the offer, and the Palestinian vow not to recognize Israel becomes weaker by its offers. In the next five years there will be a Palestinian state, but the solution can be furthered only if Israel agrees simultaneously to set its borders.