Spring has arrived, bringing cherry blossoms and fresh Israeli governments. According to Ha'aretz, Ehud Olmert will move up from the post of acting Israeli Prime Minister, although he seems likely to remain simply an acting, rather than serious, peacemaker. Olmert's Kadima party has won 28 Knesset seats. The Likud, who want to keep all of the West Bank rather than the choicest bits on which Olmert has his eye, won 11 seats. Labour won 20 seats; Yisrael Beitenu, which promotes the expulsion of Palestinians to Jordan, follow with a remarkable 12 seats. We can learn all we need to know about the 'mainstream' of Israeli politics from the fact that Olmert seems prepared to include in his coalition Yisrael Beitenu, but not the representatives of the Arab Israelis that party is keen drive out - see http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/700363.html. Nonetheless, the editorialists are all telling us that Olmert has won a mandate to set new borders for Israel - a strange election this, in which Israeli voters give the mandate to dispose of Palestinian land, but Olmert's withdrawal plan and the reaction to it show us much about what is going wrong in the Middle East. Jonathan Freedland told us in the Guardian that 'language once confined to leftist intellectuals is now the argot of Israel's rulers'. Well, Israel's newest ruler seems to be speaking a dialect we're quite used to by now; one that lectures the Palestinians about how they must accept Israel's inalienable right to exclude them or face the consequences.
To understand this, look no further than Olmert's victory speech. Magnaminously, he offers to give up parts (only parts) of other people's land, thus 'We are prepared to renounce parts of the land of Israel so precious to us, in order to bring about the conditions for you [the Palestinians] to bring about your own dreams and to live side by side with us in peace and tranquillity.' That the parts of the 'Land of Israel' ( language once confined to Israel's religious right is now accepted by Guardian columnists) Olmert will not renounce might be precious to be Palestinians by virtue of their living in it, or that they might dream of living in it without fear of Israeli soldiers and settlers, is no part of the new Israeli dream. It cannot be, for, 'the time has come for the Palestinians to adapt their dreams to recognise the reality of Israel'. Wake up, you silly Palestinians! As if Palestinian life for the past thiry nine, if not one hundred, years has been anything but a nightmare of adaptation to the reality of Israel. But no matter - 'if they do not do this, Israel will take its fate into its own hands. We shall act without agreement with the Palestinians.' Forget the road map, it's his way or the high way.
What Olmert proposes to do, and what has brought out the starry eyes in Western pundits, is to annex bits of the West Bank, build a wall around them, and remove the Israeli settlements in the remaining cantons. The aim of this tank top gerrymandering is to 'bring about the shaping of the final borders of the state, guaranteeing a Jewish democratic state'. Aside from the odd notion that a state can be simultaneously democratic and yet restricted to one group of its citizens, and the even odder notion that it is worth guaranteeing this state of affairs, there is nothing new in concept nor in detail about the scheme. As a solution to the problem of taking Palestinian land with the unfortunate presence of Palestinians on it, the broad outlines of Olmert's new consensus were first proposed in the Allon plan in 1970. General Yigal Allon hit on the spiffing wheeze that Israel would keep the Jordan Valley,and Jerusalem and a corridor between these but avoid the trouble of repressing the bits where most Palestinians live. Presentation of this fait accompli to the Palestinians remained Labour's policy until the Oslo period - by end of which Ehud Barak was proposing almost the same plan again, with an extra morsel around the settlement of Ariel annexed to Israel for good measure. At first sight ( see Independent 30th of March 2006 http://www.independent.co.uk.html Olmert's plan differs in no significant detail except that the Palestinians will have no say in it whatsoever.
The remarkable thing about this 'unilateral separation' is the candour with which its proponents speak their aims, and the enthusiasm with which Western commentators ignore the racism that these aims embody. Editorials in The Guardian (Israel Must Aim for Peace 30th of March 2006), and the Independent (Ariel Sharon's Unlikely Bequest to His Nation 30th of March 2006) and the New York Times (West Bank Withdrawal 30th of March 2006) were eager to persuade us that Olmert's plan is a Good Thing and we should be in favour of it. The man himself knows very well why he wants to build his armour plated ghetto - in this interview (Ha'aretz 15th of November 2003) he described his unilateral solution; 'to maximize the number of Jews; to minimize the number of Palestinians; not to withdraw to the 1967 border and not to divide Jerusalem.' He said it and now he intends to do it, and with some urgency, because
'[m]ore and more Palestinians are uninterested in a negotiated, two-state solution, because they want to change the essence of the conflict from an Algerian paradigm to a South African one. From a struggle against 'occupation,' in their parlance, to a struggle for one-man-one-vote. That is, of course, a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle - and ultimately a much more powerful one. For us, it would mean the end of the Jewish state.'
Far from building a wall to stop suicide bombers, Olmert's plan is to stop ' a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle'. We should do all we can to ensure that struggle emerges and succeeds. The first step is to reject Olmert's ultimatum and the brutal solipsism for which stands.