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"Greater Israel Is Over": Olmert

By September 14, 2008

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Parting shot: Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert tells Israelis to give up the dream. (Gil Cohen/Pool/Getty Images)

On May 22, 1989, then-Secretary of State James Baker delivered a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Convention known as the "give up the dream speech." It was a long and unrestrained excoriation of Israel's policy of expansion, summed up in this one line: "Now is the time to lay aside, once and for all, the unrealistic vision of a greater Israel."

The statement wasn't meant as a slap on Israel's face (though that's how Israeli Prime Minister Shamir took it at the time) but as a framework for a realistic solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Israeli interests in the West Bank and Gaza, security and otherwise, can be accommodated in a settlement based on [UN Security Council] Resolution 242," Baker went on. "Forswear annexation; stop settlement activity; allow schools to reopen; reach out to the Palestinian as neighbors who deserve political rights."

The speech caused a rift between Israel and the administration of the first George Bush, from which Bush never fully recovered.

Today in Israel, during the Israeli cabinet's weekly meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert repeated Baker's line almost word for word: "Greater Israel is over. There is no such thing. Anyone who talks that way is deluding themselves."

Olmert's comments took place during discussion over a government proposal to give monetary compensation to Israeli settlers in the West Bank willing to relocate to Israel proper. The proposal was first floated in 2005, but it's never amounted to much more than words. It lacks backing from Israeli politicians and funding. The cabinet adjourned on Sunday without voting on it, though the significance of the meeting was nevertheless heightened by Olmert's words--and fears that, should Israel hold on to the West Bank, a bi-national state, as opposed to a two-state solution, would be the result.

Most Israelis (and most Palestinians) oppose a bi-national state. Palestinians don't see themselves sharing power with Israelis. Israelis don;t see Israel as a Jewish state surviving in a bi-national state where Arabs would quickly outnumber Jews. Olmert went on:

Forty years after the Six Day War ended, we keep finding excuses not to act. This isn't doing Israel any good. The international community in starting to view Israel as a future binational state. We can prove that we have been more creative than the other side through the years, and that they have been more obstinate, but as usual, we will win the debate by loosing sight of what's really important. We can always find very good reasons for not doing things now, and for why we would be better off postponing everything to a later date. We refuse to face reality. Time is not on Israel's side, not because our cause isn’t just, but because time has its own repercussions.

I admit – this hasn’t always been my position. In the past I've said – and I said it to (Labor Chairman Ehud) Barak at the time – that what he agreed to in Camp David was wrong. I used to believe that everything from the Jordan Riverbank to the Mediterranean Sea was ours. After all, dig anywhere and you'll find Jewish history. But eventually, after great internal conflict, I've realized we have to share this land with the people who dwell here – that is if we don’t want to be a binational state.

Olmert had nothing to lose by making the statement (though as he noted, Israel may have plenty to lose by not heeding it). Sunday's cabinet meeting may well be Olmert's last as leader of the Kadima Party. Olmert is stepping down this month after a tortuous tenure as prime minister.

It'd be fascinating to hear what James Baker has to say in response to Olmert's speech.

Comments

September 14, 2008 at 4:09 pm
(1) brandon says:

Thanks for this article… This well articulated speech gives me renewed faith in the world. It fills me with joy that someone of his stature in the political arena could see reality for what it is, and not be afraid to speak to it.

I have always felt that Israel should take the “higher road” on this issue, set the precedence, and make history for the good of humanity.

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