The former advisor for two prime ministers and a widely-known Israeli political personality delivered an optimistic message yesterday evening on prospects for Palestinian-Israeli peace in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy.
Prof. Yossi Olmert, security studies, Bar-Ilan University, saw America’s actions against terrorism in recent months as a sea of change in world opinion.
Whereas before Sept. 11, the destructiveness of radical Islamic groups were kept off the international press’ radar screen and their causes had generated some sympathy from the West, now “those who use terrorism against civilians, regardless of what they want to achieve politically, will garner the hate of the world, and that of America.”
Olmert, a former professor of middle eastern studies at Tel Aviv University and an advisor under former prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Benjamin Nentanyu, observed that U.S. political leaders are growing increasingly less tolerant of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat’s alliance with Islamic extremist organizations.
Olmert, who aligns himself on the right of the Israeli political spectrum, is also the brother of Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, who has caught flak from the international press for his role in the municipality’s razing of dozens of illegally-built Palestinian-owned houses in East Jerusalem.
Prof. Olmert defended Jerusalem’s actions, and did not mince words when condemning Arafat for failing to take a hard stand against terrorism. Olmert instructed the audience, “don’t get carried away by the pathetic outcry of Palestinian sympathizers who say [Israel is perpetrating] war crimes when empty houses are demolished. It is bad, but there is a difference.”
Rather, Olmert argued, Arafat himself has not renounced terrorism, nor has he admitted Jews’ historical and spiritual connection to Jerusalem and areas in the West Bank. “[Arafat] started a religious war, which shows itself in Europe where tens of synagogues have been burned, and we see it in the speeches of Arafat when he says he would like to become a martyr,” Olmert said.
However, Olmert did see hope for peace in President George W. Bush’s promise to carry out the war on terrorism on all fronts. “America is redrawing the map of international relations … what happens to America is what happens to the world. Now the security fears and the reality of life in Israel, which is a bad one, is becoming the reality here.”
With America’s new understanding of terrorism, Olmert predicted, Israel would better be able to carry out its war against terrorism.
“Before Sept. 11 we had to explain and apologize for something that is normal (fighting terror). Now we can say, and [the United States] knows it … the lesson of violence is that if you give in once, you have given in all the time.”
Olmert believed that the United States and European countries would now not stand in the way of more engaged Israeli military action in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to rout terrorist groups. Only when that happens, peace and compromise may ensue.
“The Palestinian people are suffering for no fault of their own. Let’s admit it, their lives are miserable – but these are the inevitable effects of a war,” Ollmert said.
“We know that … but many Palestinians are whispering to Arafat ‘stop it, stop throwing away such generous offers,’ but they cannot express it – for this same fear of the forces of terrorism,” he added.
Olmert condemned the 1992 Oslo Accords which set a timetable for exchanging land for peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He believed that the Oslo Accords set a bad precedent, showing Israel’s willingness to be bullied by Palestinian violence. “Oslo was Israel’s surrender to the first intifada (Palestinian resistance). We are suffering now from the ill affects of the Oslo Accords and we don’t know how to get rid of it.”
At the lecture, which took place in a filled Founder’s Room at Annabel Taylor Hall, Olmert fended off criticism that Israel had not done enough to improve its international image with better press relations.
“We must never make efforts to please others by compromising our security. … The realities on the ground are sometimes stronger even than the media,” Olmert said.
Archived article by Yoni Levine