"Israel heading for isolation" – Prime Minister Olmert

Ehud Olmert
In the wake of global furor over Israel’s perceived misconduct in the Gaza war, and the crystallization of a hardnosed Netanyahu government, Israel’s prime minister warns of trouble ahead.

Increasingly, the state of Israel is being split down the middle over a simple yet infuriatingly stubborn question: Should there be a two-state solution to the Palestinian question? Israel’s beefiest ally, the United States, supports such a peace plan, as does the majority of the international community. However, Israel’s incoming prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu of the hawkish Likud Party, is in the process of forging a government that threatens the two-state plan. Many observers fear what this unpopular stance will mean for Israel’s standing in the world, not to mention the hopes for a semblance of peace in the Middle East.

In a strange twist of political fate, President Shimon Peres in February gave Netanyahu the authority to build a government despite the fact that his opponent, Tzipi Livni of the Kadima party, had the most seats in the Knesset. This in itself was an unprecedented move.

Netanyahu, who formerly served as prime minister from June, 1996 until July, 1999, has been given a deadline of April 3 to build a coalition government.

This week, Netanyahu sent shockwaves through Israel’s political establishment when it was announced that the moderate Labor Party would join Likud in a coalition government, thus giving Netanyahu’s conservative party a possible majority in the 120-member Knesset.

In a thinly veiled reference to Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak, Prime Minister Olmert told cabinet ministers: “Anyone who consciously walks into a government that does not believe in two states for two people is likely to force Israel into an isolation it has not seen since its establishment.”

While mocking the politics of PM-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, Olmert also implied that Barak was a ‘scoundrel’ for cozying up to a right-wing coalition.

“Whoever thinks he can succeed in reaching international cooperation on the Iran issue on the basis of a policy that rejects any political agreement with the Palestinians and the Syrians is delusional,” Olmert said.

“Whoever says this, I can only say that I pity the dogma. But someone who doesn’t believe in this, yet still cooperates, I can only say I pity the scoundrel,” the prime minister added.

It should be noted that Barak’s decision to join forces with Likud has caused rift in the Labor Party, as seven of its Knesset members are opposed to any cooperation with Netanyahu. It was reported Monday that the ministers sent the Likud leader a letter declaring that they would not be bound by the coalition agreement because their party’s leader is “acting without authority.”

“This is the first time in the history of the Labor Party,” the ministers wrote, “that the chairman has set up a coalition negotiating team without a thorough and extensive discussion within the party and without getting the approval of any of the party’s organs. It is a gross violation of the party’s constitution.”

The most agreeable big-party coalition would be between Likud and Kadima, and this choice was passionately forwarded by Olmert.

“There is only one possibility for a unity government, and that is a government uniting Likud and Kadima,” he said.

“Any other government is a joke,” the prime minister added. “It is scheming, deceitful government, but not a unity government. To those who, in their hearts of hearts, know the truth but prefer other considerations that have nothing to do with Israel’s welfare, I say they will not be absolved, and Israeli history will not forgive them.”

At this point, Ehud Barak, who had until then not been present in the meeting, suddenly entered the room, prompting one official to call out “here he is!”

Olmert quickly insisted that he was “not talking about anyone in particular,” which convinced no one present, Israeli media said.

Israel’s Quandary

With the impetuous Netanyahu back at the helm of Israeli politics, many fear that Israel in the eyes of the world will suffer a major setback.

However, it is somewhat ironic that Olmert would lecture to the Likud leader about the possibility of isolating Israel on the international stage when the Gaza war, which occurred on Olmert’s watch, is also causing a rift between Israel and the world.

The United Nations just released a report that Israeli soldiers routinely put children in harm’s way during their 22-day offensive against the Palestinians in Gaza.

The alleged infractions occurred during ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ which was launched December 27 to halt rocket attacks and destroy smuggling tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. The fighting ended January 17 with a cease-fire.

Of the 1,453 people estimated killed in the war, 1,440 were Palestinians, including 431 children and 114 women, the report said.

The UN report called the response by the Israeli army “disproportionate.”

Israeli authorities dispute the accounts and figures, claiming that armed militants were taking cover inside of “soft” targets, thus recklessly putting innocent civilians into harms way. Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the conflict, global opprobrium seems to be on the rise against Israel in general, and Ehud Olmert, the leader of Kadima, in particular.

In Europe, Israeli embassies were the site of large demonstrations. This week, police officers in the UK announced the arrest of six more individuals who had participated in violent protests at the Israeli embassy in London at the end of December. Even the world of Israeli sports suffered a recent snub over the Gaza conflict when Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer was denied a visa to participate in the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championship over “security concerns.”

Now, if a two-state peace plan between Israel and the Palestinians is scrapped yet again due to domestic political squabbling, this could be the beginning of a long period of international isolation for Israel and yet another rise in violence on both sides of the debate.

Robert Bridge, RT