Israel, Politics

Meet Ehud Olmert

Yossi Klein Halevi writes in The New Republic,

When Ehud Olmert was a teenage leader of the right-wing Betar youth movement in the 1950s, he would mark May Day by tearing down the red flag that hung over the trade union building in his northern village of Binyamina. For Olmert and his friends, that flag symbolized what they referred to as “the Vichy government” of Labor Zionism, which had betrayed the land of Israel by twice accepting its partition–first in 1923, when the British created Transjordan, and then in 1947, when the Untied Nations divided what was left of historic Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. Betar’s fantasy map of a once-and-future Israel–incorporating the West Bank and the Kingdom of Jordan–hung on the walls of the clubhouse where Olmert served as “commander,” and it was imprinted on the patch of his military-style uniform. At meetings, he would lead his scouts in singing, “Both banks of the Jordan [River], this one is ours and that one too.”
While Olmert eventually accepted the loss of Transjordan, he devoted his political career to maintaining Israeli control over the territory won in the 1967 Six Day War. As a Likud Knesset member, he voted against Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s decision to cede Sinai to Egypt in exchange for peace. And, as mayor of Jerusalem beginning in 1993, he defended Israel’s right to govern the united city; his campaign posters invoked the nightmare image of PLO flags hanging from the Old City walls. Asked by a journalist in the 1980s to describe the most important public post he had held, he answered without hesitation, “Commander of the Binyamina branch of Betar.”
Yet Olmert, acting prime minister and heir to Ariel Sharon as head of the new centrist Kadima Party, could now become the Israeli leader who presides over the partition of greater Israel–and even of united Jerusalem, an act he would have once considered treason. In the absence of a credible Palestinian partner for peace, Olmert supports unilateral withdrawal in the West Bank; indeed, he publicly endorsed unilateralism even before Sharon did.

Full story online for subscribers only. Print edition hits newsstands January 23.

3 thoughts on “Meet Ehud Olmert

  1. Another example of someone who has gone through drastic change over the years (it is possible – just ask the author, former Kahanist Yossi Klein Halevi)…he may not trust the Palestinians any more than he did before, but he sees a need to separate from them, even if that is done unilaterally.

  2. Amazing how some people actually grow up and start noticing the world outside their own egos, isn’t it?

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