Tuesday, April 3, 2007

The Loose Cannon that Hits the Desired Target

Christoph Schult has written an interesting opinion piece about Ehud Olmert on today's SPIEGEL ONLINE Web site. He begins with a description of what Mark Lilla would have called "reckless mind syndrome," were Olmert more of an intellectual:

Whenever Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert holds a press conference, his advisors hold their breath. They never know what surprises he has in store for them. Experience has taught them that Olmert likes to make the headlines, even if that means acting brashly. Afterwards, his spokespeople often have difficulties explaining just what got ahold of him.

He then uses this description to provide the context for examining Olmert's reaction to the latest attempt at peacemaking at the summit in Saudi Arabia:

On Sunday, it was time for another surprising announcement. With German Chancellor Angela Merkel by his side, Olmert proposed a "meeting of all Arab states" and Israel. News of his words spread around the world in no time. The impression was that a peace summit as revolutionary as that of 1977 was imminent. Back then, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem and paved the way for the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab state.

This proposal is the focus of Schult's analysis, and the conclusion is that Olmert's proposal may do more harm than good towards the goal of a general peace in the Middle East:

Olmert's recurrent compliments to the Saudis also threaten to discredit the Arab kingdom as mediator in the Arab world. King Abdullah is already having a tough time selling his peace initiative to radical Arab regimes. Meanwhile, Iran's President Ahamdinejad is taking on the role of Saudi Arabia's regional counterpower. Olmert would be well advised to hold back with his comments about Saudi Arabia's mediating role. Too much praise from Jerusalem could amount to a kiss of death for the patient called "peace process," who has only just awoken from his coma and remains weak.

Schult's logic is fine as far as it goes; but, from a dramatistic perspective, I wish he had given as much attention to the question of motives behind Olmert's actions (and the extent to which those actions may reflect White House motives) as he gave to Ahmadinejad's motives in the geopolitical arena of the Middle East. Once we progress beyond the find points of logic, we have to at least entertain the hypothesis that Olmert wanted to bestow that "kiss of death" on those recent Saudi efforts. At the very least we need to recognize that Olmert represents constituents who assign a far higher priority to Israeli security than they do to that "general peace in the Middle East." I do not know if there is a Hebrew version of "crazy like a fox;" but it is worth considering whether Olmert's recklessness is nothing more than a surface performance intended to conceal deeper and more disconcerting motives.

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