Daily Israel Report

Olmert Returns to Harsh Criticism Following Diplomatic Mission

After receiving a guarded response to unilateral withdrawal during his diplomatic mission in Washington, PM Ehud Olmert is returning to Israel Thursday to criticism across the political spectrum.
By Alex Traiman
First Publish: 5/25/2006, 2:05 PM / Last Update: 5/25/2006, 11:32 AM

Olmert’s trip included meetings with U.S. President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Dr. Condoleeza Rice, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, as well as a speech to a special joint session of Congress.

Olmert received a generally warm reception from the Bush administration and the Congress, but Israeli politicians and analysts from both sides of the political spectrum are quick to suggest the mission was not so successful. Yossi Beilin, chairman of the leftist Meretz Party called Olmert’s speech “a dead end.”

"Olmert created in his speech an unreliable gap between his so-called commitment to negotiations with [Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud] Abbas and the conditions he posed to Abbas in order to start negotiations," Beilin stated.

Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres, a member of Olmert’s Kadima party and a primary author of the failed Oslo accords, was more impressed with Olmert’s first major international attempt at diplomacy.

Peres was particularly pleased with Olmert's address to Congress that was written in part by famous author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. "It was an impressive speech, which clearly presented Israel's stance as a state supporting peace and firm in its war on terror."

In his Congress address, Olmert continually referred Israel’s desire to adhere to the U.S. proposed ‘Road Map to Peace’ which calls for the creation of “two states living side-by-side” on the basis of bilateral negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. However, Olmert also signaled that he would not wait long to find a suitable partner in negotiations, as Hamas is a terror entity.

Bush did not seem overly impressed with Olmert’s “realignment” proposal, which calls for the expulsion of Jews from most of the communities located in the biblical provinces of Judea and Samaria.

In a joint press conference, Bush responded to Olmert's plan to unilaterally jumpstart the peace process by saying, "No country can be expected to make peace with those who deny its right to exist and who use terror to attack its population.”

The President continuously referred to Olmert’s suggested unilateral evacuation, as a “creative idea” as opposed to a formal plan or policy. Bush was adamant in his preference for bilateral negotiations to settle the ongoing conflict, stating, "No party should prejudice the outcome of negotiations on a final status agreement."

And as both the U.S. and Israel recognize that negotiations with Hamas are currently impossible, Bush carefully suggested that unilateral moves are not the appropriate solution to the impasse.

Former Foreign Minister, and current Likud MK Silvan Shalom, in an interview with the Jerusalem Post called Olmert’s mission “far from successful,” citing a major diplomatic disagreement on one of the three central goals of Olmert's mission.

Shalom believes that Bush's vague language regarding Olmert's unilateral plan signifies a major policy disagreement between the two allies.

"From the ceremonial point of view, he got everything. And also on the Iranian issue there is an agreement between the two governments. But on the convergence plan which was the main aim of the visit, there is a big disagreement," Shalom stated.

Ari Shavit, a leading columnist of the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, summarized the United States' lack of interest in supporting Olmert's planned withdrawal. "[Olmert’s] radical unilateral process will disrupt the American strategy in the area and will bury U.S. President George W. Bush’s dream of stability and democracy in the Middle East,” Shavit said.

While most government-sponsored Israeli media are hailing the success of the mission, most American media did not offer special coverage of Olmert's first diplomatic visit.

In the Wall Street Journal, Former CIA Director James Woolsey cited Israel's failed Gaza pullout, as one of the central reasons America is against Olmert's plan. "The approach Israel is preparing to take in the West Bank was tried in Gaza and has failed utterly," Woolsey writes.

"Creating a West Bank that looks like today's Gaza would be many times the nightmare," Woolsey added.