Hassan Asfour
June 3, 2008 - 5:16pm

The crisis that Israel is experiencing due to Olmert’s corruption scandal and its effect on the governing coalition is the most important political event today. A sitting prime minister is under investigation for bribery and money laundering like any other citizen, which is something we are not used to in Arab countries. What is more, the defendant continue his governing job as if nothing is threatening his political career. People who are following the corruption allegations will notice that Olmert is acting as if he is untouchable. In fact, he started simultaneous negotiations on a number of strategic file, each with a different style, manner, and goals. He is acting as if he has the final say, and is trying to reach achievements that would grant him a unique status in Israeli political history despite his personal scandals that might not only end his premiership, but his future in Kadima too.
But what is motivating Olmert to start these negotiations at such a critical political moment, and while he is under a great amount of pressure from his party and the governing coalition to quit as premier and head of Kadima.
Many think that Olmert’s decision to start these negotiations is only a political maneuver in order to buy time and improve his image. Others see it as an attempt to pressure his political opponents and show himself as an exceptional, strong leader who is capable of facing the most difficult of circumstances, even when public opinion does not agree with this view and demands his immediate resignation.
However, Olmert’s decision to start these negotiations can’t be viewed as a maneuver and a “waste” of time as some believe. This belief is an oversimplification that gives these people peace of mind but doesn’t provide an explanation.
Yes, the crisis in Israel is complex and complicated, and the issues within the governing coalition and within Kadima are important. Israelis will likely go to the polls early, and even if Kadima is able to change Olmert, it would only be a temporary change aimed at reaching the elections under better circumstances.

On the Israeli-Syrian negotiations front, the whole affair will provide Israel with a strategic political service. If the negotiations lead to a political agreement between both countries, this would create new strategic dimensions that, as viewed by Israel’s leaders and elite, would give Israel regional strategic advantages. Olmert, irrespective of his crisis, would continue to work on achieving this “historic agreement” that would not involve any major concession on Israel’s part other than the usual “verbal concessions”, but which will result in an infinite victory for Israel.
The continuation - and fruitful conclusion –of the negotiations is a subject of consensus within the governing coalition, with or without Olmert, and the security institution in its entirety stands behind this political decision. This confirms that Israel stands to benefit strategically from it, and that is why the governing coalition views this decision as potentially having an important and influential role in the next election cycle. The success of the Syrian front will help Kadima and the Labor Party against the Likud and its allies. Accordingly, the coalition will try to create the circumstances that will assist in achieving a “Syrian agreement” especially since both sides, fundamentally, have identified the “framework agreement” on the substantive issues of withdrawal, security, normalization of relations, and water according to sources from both sides. That is why “Olmert’s crisis” will have a positive effect on speeding up negotiations and achieving the agreement in this front.

On the other hand, the Palestinian front is the exact opposite. Olmert and the governing coalition feel that progress on negotiations on the Palestinian front will weaken their standing within public opinion, especially on the issues of Jerusalem and refugees. This will cause them not to make serious headway on reaching an agreement with the Palestinians. In fact, this will lead Israel to probably escalate the situation on both the operational and political levels, specifically in Israel’s settlement activity in Jerusalem and military and security actions in the West Bank and around Gaza. This also explains the slowing, or even regression, of the ceasefire negotiations with Hamas, coupled with a public relations campaign towards striking Hamas and Gaza militarily, while providing “Hezbollah” with special gifts at their time of necessity after the Lebanese military crisis.
There is a lenient Israeli behavior towards Syria and Hezbollah, and a behavior of extremism and military escalation in the Palestinian negotiation and ceasefire fronts. We have to examine “Olmert’s crisis” and its political uses from that perspective. What are the costs of this expected strategic “service” in return for Israel’s behavior and willingness to negotiate? Whoever is behind this “service” and who will have to pay?
(Translation by Mike Husseini from ATFP)


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017