What Olmert Failed to Say

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's recent policy speech at the Herzliya Conference was well thought out and carefully crafted, but completely inadequate in charting a realistic course for Jewish continuity in the land of our ancestors.

Martin Wasserman,

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Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's recent policy speech at the Herzliya Conference was well thought out and carefully crafted, but completely inadequate in charting a realistic course for Jewish continuity in the land of our ancestors.

He said that the cornerstone of his policy is ensuring that Israel will have a Jewish majority. So far, so good. But how will he go about doing this? Apparently, his plan is to relinquish control over all areas that currently have an Arab majority, including almost all of Judea and Samaria. But even if the Jewish people were willing to make such sacrifices, how do we know that it would end there?

There are many places in Israel that do not now have an Arab majority, but soon will if current trends continue. Will those have to be surrendered also? Does Olmert have any plan to prevent those places from obtaining an Arab majority, and thereby slipping out of Israel's grasp? Apparently not, since he spoke of a policy that reflects demographic realities, instead of one that creates demographic realities.

There are many ways that Israel could bolster its majority in problem areas. For example, it could let Jews build homes wherever they want in those areas, and even offer favorable terms for doing so. It could also enforce existing laws against illegal Arab homes, destroy those homes, and apply serious penalties to those who build them. Or it could simply forbid Arabs from living in certain areas altogether. If Olmert's proposed Palestinian state has the right to bar Jews from living in it, then surely Israel has an equal right to bar Arabs. In fact, it is utterly irresponsible to refuse even to allow a discussion of keeping Israel Jewish by removing the Arab population, especially in light of the historical precedents of Jews being driven out of Arab lands. But Olmert's speech addressed none of these issues.

To Olmert's credit, he did say that the Jewish people have an historic right to the entire land of Israel. However, he apparently thinks that this right isn't important enough to be worth fighting for, since he clearly advocates giving up the disputed land rather than using the world-renowned Israeli army to hold on to it. When two opposing sides both want the same piece of land, and one side is willing to fight for it and the other is not, it's easy to see who is more likely to get it.

He also said that Israel will retain control over places of supreme national importance, such as Jerusalem. Does this mean that Israel will at last take possession of the Temple Mount, the most supremely important site in all of Judaism? In fact, the speech didn't contain a single reference to the Mount, so it's safe to assume that under an Olmert government, the status quo will continue. The holiest spot in Judaism will continue to be controlled by Muslims and to be off limits to Jews, such that any Jew who dares to try to pray there will feel the full wrath of the Israeli government.

And what about Hebron, the second holiest site in Judaism? Is this not a place of supreme national importance, containing the tombs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the first real estate ever owned by Jews in the Land of Israel? Apparently, this is outweighed in Olmert's mind by the fact that there's currently an Arab majority there, making Jewish residence impossible. He's not even willing to let the Hebron settlers face the Arabs on their own, as many of them are willing to do, but insists on their forced evacuation by Israeli soldiers, saying that he will have no tolerance for those "lawbreakers" who insist on remaining at the site.

Apparently, expelling Jews from their homes is okay, but expelling Arabs is out of the question. Having shown his utter impotence in dealing with the deadly threat posed by the Arabs, he's now turning his rage on the one group of people he thinks he can attack with impunity, those stiff-necked Jews who insist on basing their lives on God, the Torah and the Covenant, even though all of the most important people of modern society are telling them that they're wrong.

The speech was also filled with numerous references to the Palestinian need to halt terrorism if they hope to achieve their national aspiration of living peacefully side-by-side with Israel in a modern, democratic state. But what if it turns out that this is not their aspiration at all? What if it turns out that they have no national aspirations other then destroying Israel, and that they will never depart from the path of murder and death no matter how much outside pressure is applied? Olmert did not consider this possibility, or give any clue what he would do if it turns out to be true. But he did give one hint about his possible future actions. He made it clear that they would be defensive in nature. In other words, the goal will not be to achieve gains, but to limit losses.

Olmert's policy is consistent with the smallness of his vision. The "dream" that he expressed in his speech was not about restoring the glory of our ancient kingdom, or living up to the standards of our illustrious forefathers, or passing along a strong and healthy nation to our descendants. Instead, he dreams only of tranquility, of a life of peace and security, to be achieved not by facing danger, but by running away from it.

And there's another thing that the acting prime minister failed to consider. He failed to consider the possibility that there exists a Supreme Being who guides the course of history; and who has always taken a particular interest in the affairs of a certain nation that once listened to His voice on Mount Sinai and promised unconditionally to follow Him wherever He led them. And this is perhaps Ehud Olmert's greatest failure of all.