Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Casulty of Power

What happens when an out-going Prime Minister tries to influence crucial events?
He gets hammered. Ehud Olmert inserted himself into the “lull” negotiations between Israel and Hamas at the last minute, issuing a demand that any agreement include the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Hamas for over 2 1/2 years.

Israel will not negotiate directly with Hamas, but uses Egypt as a broker. Today Israel’s president Shimon Peres reminded the EU that Hamas was a terrorist organization.

Egypt, the brokers of this “lull” agreement, was livid at the change in terms at the last minute. The chief Israeli negotiator Gen (res.) Amos Gilad made what he later claimed were off-the-record statements to a Maariv reporter castigating Olmert for putting a stick in the spokes of the negotiations. Gilad claimed that Egypt was “insulted.”

Cut to the background. Amos Gilad is reportedly a backer of Labor party leader, Minister of Defense Ehud Barak. Amos Gilad, an analyst pointed out, was once Army spokesman, and knew that anything said in front of a reporter could reach the public. There is also political venom at play. One newspaper wrote that Barak and Olmert hate each other. Amos Gilad, some say ,was representing Barak’s views, and carried on with those views until the very end.. Olmert watched patiently as Barak’s man ran to the finish line, then stepped in at the last minute with his own demands, thwarting Barak.

Once Amos Gilad’s criticism of Olmert reached the public, Olmert went on the offensive. He fired Amos Gilad, and appointed a new three-man team to negotiate with the Egyptians, still representing Hamas. One analyst said Olmert had no choice but to fire Amos Gilad, since a Prime Minister can’t allow a diplomatic representative to insult him in public.

Many analysts say that Olmert believes he has been already set up; that someone destroyed his political career by sicing the police on him with flimsy charges that were then leaked constantly to the press until the Attorney General had no choice but to start an investigation with an eye toward an indictment.

Olmert, according to these sources, believes he will beat the charges against him, and then stage a political comeback. With that in mind he wants to leave a legacy in place that insures him of an easy road back to power. Freeing Gilad Shalit would be a huge bonus if he could pull it off.

However, one pundit cited Olmert’s miserable record in the wars as a millstone around his neck as he tried to swim from an island of political isolation back to the shores of power. Olmert disagrees that his record is paltry, rather, he is convinced that his leadership was so exemplary that the public will soon yearn for his return.

Meanwhile, Gilad Shalit sits in some cell, somewhere, held captive by Israel’s enemies. The latest round of negotiations with Hamas have ended with Hamas declaring Shalit is not and will not be part of the “lull” negotiations.

There are those, however, who believe Olmert was right in linking Shalit to the talks. That Israel was right to link the opening of the gates to Gaza from Egypt and Israel with the release of Gilad Shalit. That Hamas should give back Shalit before any agreement is signed.

Apparently Ehud Barak, the Minister of Defense, sees one soldier on the battlefield as a casualty of war to be sacrificed if necessary in order to achieve a military advantage. Olmert may have discovered this trend in Israeli thinking; this soft spot for the poor boy held by Hamas and exploited it.

Whatever the reason, it seems that it may be up to the next Prime Minister to close the deal with Hamas, not Ehud Olmert. What some are asking is if the next Prime Minister will be stuck with a deal drawn up by Barak and then manipulated by Olmert, a deal that still needs to be renegotiated. To undermine Egypt’s position, the Saudi’s are making noises that they, not the Egyptians, are now the leaders of the Arab world.

On the coalition negotiations front, voices are now heard that perhaps Tzipi Livni can be replaced as head of Kadima with men who are willing to make a deal with Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud who was asked to form a government by Israel’s president Shimon Peres. So far ‘Bibi’ has not succeeded in a broad coalition since he refuses to grant Livni an equal say in government and a rotation of the Prime Minister’s office. Livni has said she’ll take the Kadima party into the coalition.

Shaul Mofaz, one of the leaders of Kadima has said that Kadima didn’t win 28 seats in the election to sit in the opposition. What he didn’t say was that he’d rather be a cabinet minister in a Likud lead coalition, with all the perks of power, than an also-ran sitting on the backbench in the Knesset.

In the Middle East, things don’t get easier.

Especially, it seems, for Gilad Shalit.