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What are They Really Thinking?

Date: 12.11.08 

How do senior Likud members view the possible agreement with the Palestinian, and do they know, deep down, that the vision laid out by Ehud Olmert is right?

Two days ago at events to commemorate Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Olmert reiterated his new political vision regarding a final status agreement based on the 1967 borders. He has gotten and will keep getting much criticism and attacks on that speech: From the right, he'll be under attack for the substance of his statements, and from the left, people will wonder why he has only now seen the light. But there is courage in his statements—the courage of someone willing to admit that he has change his ideological opinion by 180 degrees. That doesn't happen often in our politics.

The left is currently marking a five-year anniversary for the Geneva Initiative, which presented a detailed model of a final status agreement that is accepted by both Israeli and Palestinian political figures. The Geneva Initiative had some problems, first and foremost the relinquishment of sovereignty on the Temple Mount and the implied agreement to a symbolic return of refugees into Israel. On top of that, during the bleak height of the second Intifada, the Initiative seemed almost imaginary. Five years later, and according to all the reports and Olmert's statements, the agreement in the works with the Palestinian will look almost identical. We can expect and hope to find a solution for the Temple Mount that doesn’t require Israel to relinquish sovereignty and an agreement that completely rules out the return of refugees into Israel. But apart from that, the borders, the settlement blocks, the requirement to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, and first and foremost the basic understanding that the conflict can already end in our lifetimes based on a territorial compromise based on the 1967 borders—all of these have been accepted by most of the political system.

But not by the Likud. It's very hard to get a Likud member to say how the conflict should end, as he or she sees it.  The senior members do not acknowledge the need for a compromise based on the 1967 borders, because that would mean there'd be no real difference between them and Kadima or Labor. Privately, many of them say that they know that should an agreement be reached, it will highly resemble the plan now being negotiated by Olmert, the Taba talks in 2001, or even the Geneva Initiative. The problem is, however, that these conversations remain in the Knesset cafeteria.

The result is a fake political discourse that sometimes contains moments of "enlightenment," when one of the leaders one of the leaders separates from the monolithic cluster of senior members and suddenly says "we must leave Gaza" (Rony Milo in the early nineties) or "the occupation is bad (Sharon before the disengagement). Therefore, the right is doomed to relive its disappointments from leaders who become enlightened: the enlightenment of Begin, Sharon and Olmert.

It is safe to assume that a small degree of compromise already made its way t the enlightened many years ago. There are, of course, strict ideologues like Benny Begin, who would probably not give up the settlement of Yitzhar on the outskirts of Nablus even if no other option remains. But most Likud leaders are pragmatic, in keeping with their party's tradition. Is it possible that they express hard-line views simply for the sake of their political survival? Do they say things in which they don’t simply in order to be elected in the primary elections or in order to set themselves apart from Labor or Kadima, while they secretly know that Olmert was speaking the truth this week on Rabin's grave? That's just right inconceivable.