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George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert By: Sol Stern
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, May 01, 2006

Sometime this week Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will present Israel’s President, Moshe Katzav, with a list of the political parties that have pledged to support his new government in the hopes of maintaining a stable parliamentary majority for the next few years. Without the commanding presence of Ariel Sharon it’s not unreasonable to worry about whether this government, patched together after weeks of behind the scenes horse trading, will be able to handle the enormous military and political challenges it will confront almost immediately upon taking office. All sides will be counting on the resiliency of Israel’s democracy.

The foreign and security policies that will guide the new coalition government were negotiated between Olmert’s Kadima party, which garnered 29 seats in the 120 member Knesset, and the Labor party, which came in second with 19 seats. Smaller parties recruited to the coalition, such as one representing pensioners and a Sephardic orthodox party, will have to accept the principle established by Kadima and Labor that the government will “work to shape the permanent borders of the state as a Jewish state with a democratic majority." To that end the agreement explicitly states that "the territory of the Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria" will be "reduced.” The coalition also stipulates that "if the Palestinians do not act in accordance with these conditions in the near term, the government will also take action in the absence of negotiations and an agreement with them, on the basis of a broad national agreement within Israel and a deep understanding with Israel's friends abroad, chief among them the United States and President George W. Bush."


In other words, for the first time since Israel’s victory in the Six Day War of 1967 there is now a clear parliamentary majority and an overwhelming majority of all Israelis for a unilateral withdrawal from about 90 % of the West Bank and a complete separation from the Palestinians. There will be some lip service paid to continued negotiations with the dysfunctional two headed Palestinian authority. But Olmert has made it clear that he intends to finish building the separation fence, dismantle the isolated West Bank Jewish outposts and consolidate a defensible block of settlements around Jerusalem in order to create a permanent defensible border and head off a demographic disaster for Israel. In the circumstances, this seems to be the right thing to do strategically and politically. The costs of trying to maintain control over two million hostile Palestinians now clearly outweigh any security benefits from the occupation. But even if this ambitious project is accomplished quickly, Israel’s security situation will remain precarious and uncertain. Cooperation and aid from the United States will remain as important today as it has ever been.


Forget for a moment the likelihood of more deadly terrorism from Hamas and the other Palestinian death cults. No government in Israel’s history has ever had to face anything like the physical threat to the nation’s existence posed by the new Nazi/Islamic regime in Iran and its race to acquire nuclear weapons. And the atomic clock may be ticking faster than anyone thought and force painful decisions. The head of Israeli military intelligence, Major General Amos Yadlin, said a few days ago that Iran now has in its arsenal medium range missiles that can travel 1500 miles and are capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The missiles were purchased from Iran’s fellow member of the “axis of evil,” the Peoples Republic of Korea. Obviously the missiles now pose a serious existential threat for several countries in Europe as well as Israel. But don’t count on cooperation between any of those countries and the Jewish state on the danger from Iran. The sleepwalking Europeans don’t even  seem interested in making the sacrifices necessary for any kind of military defense of their own societies.


So it will be left to George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert -- big Satan and little Satan in the eyes of the Islamists and their leftist enablers in the West -- to go forward essentially alone, to coordinate strategy and take up the challenge from Iran and Hamas and the Jihad internationale. When Olmert visits President Bush next month, he will describe to the President a new Israeli political reality. There is effectively no more Likud party. The dream of a Greater Israel has passed. Instead there is a centrist, pragmatic government seeking peace with the Palestinians, but also ready and willing to join with its historic ally, the United States, in dealing with the greatest security problem in the world today.


Ariel Sharon visited President Bush eight times during his tenure as Israel’s prime minister. The extraordinary politidal and strategic partnership established by the two leaders had nothing to do with the power of the Israel Lobby or the machinations of the neo-conservatives. The relationship emerged instead out of the changed international situation after 9/11. Bush and Sharon instinctively understood what had to be done to combat the global Islamic terrorist movement. That’s why Bush gave Sharon a free hand to carry out targeted assasinations of the terror masters and to build the separation fence. This personal  relationship and the umbrella of political support provided by the US paid off big time when Sharon was able to withdraw from Gaza and set the stage for the final seperation from the Palestinians.


Ehud Olmert is even more knowledgeable about American politics and the ins and outs of the Bush administration than Sharon was when he became Prime Minister. It’s safe to predict that he will go even further, making whatever accomodations are necessary, to nurture the strategic partnership between Israel and the U.S. administration. No doubt he will be attacked by some on the right, in Israel and the U.S.,  for these accomodations. There’s also little doubt that they will be in the national interests of both Israel and the U.S. In the shadow of the nuclear threat from the regime in Iran a healthy partnership between Bush and Olmert is also in the best interests of the West, even though many in the West still don’t appreciate it.


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Sol Stern is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to City Journal.

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