Just four months ago, following the incapacitation of Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert was elected Prime Minister of Israel. The hopeful narrative of his campaign was that of a career hard-liner who, like the great majority of Israelis, had finally come to believe that his country’s occupation of the more than three and a half million Palestinian Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank was morally untenable, spiritually corrosive, and politically senseless. Olmert comes from an activist family that believed in the Greater Israel ideology of Vladimir Jabotinsky. He was a “Likud prince,” a champion of the mass-settlement project.
But, in the footsteps of Sharon, who had closed the settlements of Gaza, Olmert declared his intention to extend the process known as “disengagement” to most (if not enough) of the West Bank. In the early weeks of his premiership, his greatest concern seemed to be how best to time the withdrawals and avoid any clashes between his own police and the most zealous of the settlers. Because the process lacked a Palestinian partner, the disengagement plan was too peremptory to promise a final settlement, but at least it suggested progress toward the sole mutually acceptable resolution of the historic conflict—two viable states, side by side, in a lasting, if uneasy, peace.
That strand of Middle Eastern optimism is now a memory...
...To distract the world from its nuclear ambitions and to keep conflict alive in the Middle East, Iran, through its client militia in Lebanon, has indulged in a provocation of the most dangerous kind. Now its opponents face a challenge that demands endurance and strategic calculation, an unwillingness to fall further into a trap where politics ends and the forces of chaos inevitably triumph.