Opinion: Olmert′s Resignation Unlikely to Improve Peace Process | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 01.08.2008
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Opinion: Olmert's Resignation Unlikely to Improve Peace Process

Israel's Prime Minister Olmert made many promises, but didn't keep many of them. He could barely even set a course for the Middle East peace process. DW's Bettina Marx said his successors don't offer much hope, either.


Ehud Olmert has called it quits. When his Kadima party votes for a new leader in six weeks, he will clean out his office and make way for his successor. Finally, is the sentiment felt by most Israelis, who had to watch their prime minister stumble from one affair of corruption to another for years.

Ehud Olmert was head of government for only 31 months. He took over in the difficult times of his predecessor Ariel Sharon, who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in January 2006 and fell into a coma. Olmert had a disappointing performance in the subsequent election. The hoped-for outstanding election win for him and the still very young Kadima Party, which Sharon had recently founded, did not materialize.

But Olmert did not contest this. He promised to finally give Israel definite borders and to make peace with the Palestinians and the neighboring Arabic countries. But he could not adhere to any of this - on the contrary. He had barely come into office when he led a war against the Hezbollah and Lebanon, which indeed from the beginning registered much agreement among the population from the beginning, but whose disappointing and casualty-high exit then almost cost him his position in office.

No peace with Palestinians

There were also no advances whatsoever in the talks with the Palestinians. Indeed Olmert regularly met Mahmud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, for so-called peace talks. But while he dealt with him, his government simultaneously agreed upon the building of new settlements and the destruction of old ones and asked Defense Secretary Ehud Barak for stronger action against the Palestinians in Gaza.

Against this background it almost appeared to be a mockery when Olmert hinted at signing an agreement with Abbas before retiring as prime minister, because neither Olmert nor Abbas can rely on the majority of their voters. Both no longer have a mandate to make decisions with far-reaching effects.

Dubious successors

But even after Olmert leaves office, the situation in the Middle East will not be much better. Of the four possible successors at the top of the Kadima party, two have excelled as downright troublemakers in the past.

Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, chief of staff during the outbreak of the intifada, who regularly defies the orders of the political leadership and was once described by an Israeli journalist as a “man without any attributes,” campaigned for the rigorous suppression of the Palestinian insurgence.

Minister of Interior Security Avi Dichter, who was previously the chief of the domestic intelligence service Shabak, is considered the actual driving force behind the targeted killings with which Israel took its political adversaries in the Palestinian regions out of the way. Interior Minister Meir Shitrit, who up to now stands out mainly through his unconditional loyalty to Olmert, essentially has no hope of becoming his successor because he lacks the necessary power base in his party.

In the meantime, Secretary of State Tzipi Livni, currently the most promising candidate, is indeed considered as the dove in her party. But she too holds a rigid and demanding position against the Palestinians.

None of the four candidates to succeed Olmert is stepping forward with an original idea, none have made a creative suggestion regarding how the conflict with the Palestinians can be solved peacefully. None have displayed open-mindedness or the readiness to make compromises. Olmert's announced retirement could indeed make things easier, but there is no reason to hope for advances in the peace process.

Bettina Marx is DW's Israel expert and formerly worked as a correspondent in Tel Aviv. (ls)

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