From now until January 22, you have to read every news item with the Israeli elections in mind. Take nothing at face value. Every statement, position, revelation, development or initiative is politically motivated and skewed. Every move is designed to influence the outcome of the Israeli vote, in one direction or another, or to take advantage of the election season for narrow or hostile gain. Here are three early examples.
One of Prime Minister's Benjamin Netanyahu's main selling points is expected to be his success in maintaining the relative calm along Israel's borders during most of the four years his government has been in power. This, in contrast to the previous Olmert/Kadima government, which led Israel into wars in both Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
In this context, the current military escalation on our southern frontier, which jeopardizes security in the communities near the Gaza Strip, could pose a problem for Netanyahu's re-election campaign. As sirens sound in the Negev more and more frequently, Netanyahu’s political rivals will likely exploit the situation to their political advantage. It is also entirely possible that Hamas and some of the more extreme groups in Gaza (loosely-affiliated with al-Qaida and not always under the thumb of Hamas), may purposefully seek to draw blood from Israel at this time, thinking that they can get away with it. They know that Netanyahu will be circumscribed in his reactions.
Next is revelations of covert Israel-Syria talks in 2010, leaked by the administration in Washington to Yedioth Ahronoth last week. This is clearly a story meant to shatter the Likud and the Likud’s Center-Right coalition by portraying Netanyahu as a leftist willing to talk with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and perhaps to part with the Golan Heights. This is the beginning, I’m sure, of a determined Obama administration attempt to unseat Netanyahu, to be continued and intensified if, Heaven forefend, U.S. President Barack Obama is re-elected in November.
Yedioth Ahronoth, which is pumping and pushing aggressively for an Olmert candidacy for the premiership, was only too glad to serve as the platform for this story and to distort it as well, hinting that Netanyahu was willing to withdraw from the Golan down to the Sea of Galilee. When The New York Times looked a bit more seriously into the story (something that Yedioth didn’t bother to do), it discovered that Netanyahu didn't agree to pull Israel off the Golan Heights. This was confirmed by Ehud Barak’s aide Col. Mike Herzog, who was involved in the secret Syria talks, and by Barak himself (who is now running a campaign against Netanyahu).
Yedioth has another running anti-Likud tack developing, which is to portray Likud as a "radical right-wing party" overtaken by the settlers, the “Feiglinites,” and other hardliners. Even Moshe Kahlon’s surprise decision not to run in the Likud primaries, taken apparently for personal reasons, is being portrayed today by Yedioth as another victory of the hard Right — which supposedly squeezed out Kahlon. But anybody who knows their Likud politics knows that this isn’t true. Kahlon and Moshe Feiglin are close friends and allies.
The biggest fallacy of all currently being purveyed in the nascent election campaign, on behalf of the Left and a return to politics by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is that Olmert is the political Center of the country and that he was inches away from bringing Israel a peace agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. As if withdrawal from 100 percent of the West Bank, dividing Jerusalem, destroying dozens of settlement communities and agreeing to the return of Palestinians to Israel — which Olmert offered Abbas — is “Center.” As if Abbas would have agreed to settle all claims with Israel, even on this basis. Remember: Abbas walked away from the deal.
Nevertheless, for the sake of Olmert’s return, Abbas has now joined the Olmert campaign, telling Israeli MKs on Sunday that if Olmert had remained in office a deal might have been struck. “During Olmert's time we had successes,” Abbas said. “We didn't strike a deal but reached understandings in many of the core subjects. When Olmert left, Netanyahu arrived and refused to accept these understandings, insisting that we begin it all from the beginning. We didn’t agree to that. Netanyahu is destroying the two-state solution,” Abbas intoned.
For the record, Abbas’s version of history is a lie. The leaked documents referred to as the Palestine Papers, the Palestinian equivalent of Wikileaks, have revealed that Abbas never responded to Olmert's offer, despite the fact that Olmert remained prime minister for more than seven months after he made the offer.
Olmert himself is nevertheless now feeding the international myth machine in this regard. In his self-serving memoir and an interview with CNN in May, Olmert claimed that he was on the verge of a historical peace agreement with Abbas in 2008, and only the interference of “extreme right-wing” individuals from the U.S. that “brought in outside money” scuttled an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
But Olmert was not even close to an agreement. As Dr. Dore Gold has convincingly showed in articles in this paper, the Olmert-Abbas talks actually prove the opposite: that the gaps between the most maximal concessions ever made by an Israeli prime minister and the minimal requirements of Abbas for an agreement — remain fundamental and very wide.
On the issue of refugees, Abbas told The Washington Post in May 2009 that it was his understanding that Olmert accepted the principle of the "right of return." Yet, Olmert told The New York Times two years later that the exact number of refugees that would return was still subject to further negotiation. Doesn’t sound like an agreement to me. The devil is always in the details. Similarly, Abbas contends that Israeli security concerns had been worked out with Gen. James Jones, then U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's security adviser, but not with Israel. The IDF was not involved in any detailed security arrangement discussions. Similarly, there are different versions about what Olmert intended for Jerusalem, each more problematic than the next. Olmert told The New York Times that he was willing to give up Israeli sovereignty over what he called the so-called Holy Basin. But these declared concessions still left “the gaps too wide” in Abbas’ words.
The bottom line is: Take everything you read over the next three months with a great big grain of salt. Nothing is as it seems.