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Saturday, December 2, 2006

The return of the etrog

The return of the etrog

By Gideon Samet

What was the "farewell to dreams" speech that Ehud Olmert made this week on
the mute grave of David Ben-Gurion? Was it the beginning of movement, or just
a recycled pretense? Was it a real flash of light, or the remnant of yet
another star of promise that once exploded in space, and whose rays are only
now reaching us? Even those who doubt the political integrity of the prime
minister still find it difficult to know for sure. He admitted a few weeks ago
that he did not have an agenda. But the leader has the advantage, so long as
he is still in power, of being able to blur the vanishing line between telling
the truth and the dizziness of a spin.

Another sad advantage that he has is the growing apathy of the man in the
street. Just as the bitter disillusionment with the worsening situation in
Israel contributed to the record TV rating achieved by magician Uri Geller,
the speech created the need to rely on it simply because there is nothing else
to lean on. Thus, as if in an old play that is being revived, please welcome
Olmert back again, in the role of the "etrog" (citron).

This is not an ironic invitation. Ariel Sharon was that kind of political
fruit, the kind that must be protected so long as not proven otherwise.
Olmert, who followed in his footsteps, was also granted generous credit, until
he sold damaged goods. Now, for one last time, he must be given credit, for a
limited period. Not because what he said was ground-breaking. Simply to hold
him to his word.

The conditions he outlined for negotiations over evacuating "many
territories," dismantling settlements and setting up a Palestinian state with
territorial contiguity are the kinds of clauses that would cause you to hold
off from signing a contract for an apartment. But there is a great deal that
Olmert must, and can easily, do even before the truth of his intentions is

He had no choice but to make these promises. America wants to see movement in
the region, so as to make it easier for it to carry out a staged withdrawal
from Iraq. President Bush went to Jordan this week in order to begin dealing
with this. His secretary of state is trying to assist her boss, and again
spoke with the Israelis and Palestinians yesterday. Olmert's pathetic standing
in the public opinion polls finally has brought him to the realization that
only something softened and promising will have appeal to a public that is
increasingly disaffected with his no-agenda.

But it is not particularly important if he was forced to say it. Olmert said
it. The important thing now is, of course, what will spring from this seed.
One possibility: nothing. No chance of negotiations. The crushing Israeli
conditions have not yet been made public. They have merely been hinted at, for
the record, and when the time comes some of them will destroy any chance for

And there is another possibility. The prime minister's bureau, in its usual
haughty tone, clarified to the Palestinians after the speech that this was
their last chance. If so, this is also the last diplomatic chance for the man
who made the promises over the grave of the founding father.

It will be possible to examine his readiness for another option in the coming
weeks: to see what Olmert will do with the long list of items which, unless
they are taken care of, will make it imperative to understand the etrog speech
as a low and cynical exercise. The following is a summary of the list:

b To begin dismantling illegal settlements. The scandalous contempt of the
Olmert government for Talia Sasson's report must cease. Even without any
connection to Olmert's message from Sde Boker.

b To keep the Karni border crossing and other crossing points open
continuously. U.S. General Keith Dayton, who coordinates security affairs
between Israel and the Palestinians, has presented a plan. Israel supposedly
approved it, but then did not care and did not do a thing. In the year 2000,
the Gazan textile industry sent 3,500 trucks of exports via the Karni crossing
point to Israel. Last year it sent 2,500, and this year until August - 300.
Damage to agriculture in Gaza is estimated at some $30 million this year.
According to the UN report that was leaked to Haaretz yesterday, the almost
total closing of the crossing points has raised the unemployment rate in Gaza
from 33 percent in 2005 to 42 percent this year.

b To change the mania at the checkpoints. According to that same report, the
number of checkpoints has risen since last year by about half. A drive to
Nablus that, unrestricted, would take a quarter of an hour, for example, takes
hours. The security considerations along the Green Line are ridiculous when
the security fence, that enterprise that was so full of promises, is breached
along its entire length.

b To put an end to the Shin Bet security service's policy that prevents
Palestinian patients from coming to Israel. Every entry needs a Shin Bet seal
of approval, and most requests are turned down on security grounds. The
hardship imposed on the population of Gaza is not merely hard-hearted, even in
the shadow of the Qassam rockets. It perpetuates the breeding of hostility and
more terror.

b To release prisoners even before Gilad Shalit is returned, as a gesture of
goodwill and with an agreement that the remainder will gradually be released
later. Olmert's verbal generosity about the large number of those to be freed
has no value so long as he conducts the negotiations about what has been
declared the major reason for a failed war like a petty bookkeeper. Only after
the etrog begins doing something from this list, will you know whether to get
out soft packing paper so as to protect it.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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