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Israel’s Ehud Olmert Declares "J’Accuse…!" But to What End?

The Israeli publication Haaretz published June 26 an op-ed by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (2006-2009), “I Accuse Netanyahu of Betrayal”

While notable in several respects, including in its self-conscious homage to Emile Zola’s 1898 “J’Accuse!” declaration in defense of French Jewish military officer Alfred Dreyfus, there is a key passage in the several-hundreds-word-long op-ed. It opens as follows. “I accuse the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, of taking deliberate action to prolong the war between Israel and the Palestinian murder organizations. The desire to drag out the fighting without specifying an end date is the reason precise objectives have not been set for the combat forces.

“I accuse the prime minister of Israel of intent to expand the war and initiate a direct, all-out military confrontation with Hezbollah in the north, instead of reaching, with French and U.S. mediation, an agreement with the Lebanese government that will bring an end to the current violent conflict, and allow tens of thousands of residents of northern Israel who have been displaced by the fighting to return to their homes.

“I accuse the prime minister of Israel of taking deliberate actions meant to cause a widespread flare-up of violence in the West Bank, in the knowledge that this would trigger the expansion of war crimes against Palestinians who are not involved in terrorism in any way….” It continues in this vein for many paragraphs, but includes a crucial formulation: Olmert states that Netanyahu, and by extension his government, have perpetrated a fraud on the world, and on the Israeli population, by committing that nation “to the full destruction of Hamas,” a task which he knew was impossible from the beginning, and was therefore, never his actual purpose:

“I accuse the prime minister of Israel of deliberately abandoning the Israeli hostages who are still being held by Hamas murderers. His refusal to reach an agreement that would allow all the hostages to return to Israel is based on the argument that it would prevent a total victory over Hamas. But total victory is not an option now and it has not been an option from the day the prime minister first presented it. It was meant to be an impossible goal that would allow the prime minister, any time he chooses, to blame the failure to achieve it on the military and the fighting forces in general and on the person who leads it, Lt. Gen. Herzl Halevi, in particular. “

Certainly, Olmert cannot be accused of being “pro-Hamas” or a Palestinian apologist. He has been a fixture in Israeli politics since 1966, entering the Knesset in 1973 at the age of 28, re-elected seven times, and serving as Mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003 before becoming prime minister. His own political career has not been without controversy and legal issues. In 2006, Irish author Brian Keenan, who was held hostage in Lebanon for four years from April 1986 to August 1990, writing in the Guardian in July 2006 said about Olmert:

“About a dozen years ago, I was an invited speaker at an international conflict resolution conference held in Derry in Northern Ireland. Ehud Olmert was also a guest speaker. In his address, he said: ‘Political leaders can help change the psychological climate which affects the quality of relationships among people.’ And he concluded: ‘How are fears born? They are born because of differences in tradition and history; they are born because of differences in emotional, political and national circumstances. Because of such differences, people fear they cannot live together. If we are to overcome such fear, a credible and healthy political process must be carefully and painfully developed. A political process that does not aim to change the other or to overcome differences, but that allows each side to live peacefully in spite of their differences.’ I can only ask my fellow contributor, now prime minister of Israel: ‘What happened, Ehud? How does the havoc and slaughter of your neighbors tally with your inspiring sentiments?’

“During my life, I have come to accept that there are very good reasons why Jews hate Muslims and vice versa. Often, they are eloquent in their arguments and can convincingly document reasons for their antipathy and suspicion. Yet wholesale genocide is no solution—and both sides know it. They have no alternative but to coexist.”

So, while Olmert’s remarks are to be welcomed, they are also to be tested in the balance. Are they stated for political expediency to merely remove Netanyahu, or for the purpose of actually ending the ongoing slaughter?