In marmur

By Rabbi Dow Marmur,

A cartoon in Ha’aretz a couple of days ago showed how Abu Mazen, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, wanted Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, to add one more name to the list of prisoners who were supposed to be released by Israel last Saturday night as a condition for continuing negotiations. (Please note: not to agree on peace, just to agree to continue to talk about peace!)

The added name the cartoonist had put in the mind of Abu Mazen was that of Ehud Olmert, Israel’s immediate past prime minister, who has just been convicted, with several others, of taking bribes and of corruption when he was mayor of Jerusalem prior to becoming prime minister. The result of the crimes is a monstrous cluster of buildings on the site of the old Holyland Hotel in Jerusalem.

Olmert may also be convicted at a later stage of tampering with the course of justice by seeking to put pressure on Shula Zaken, his former chief of staff, not testify against him as part of plea bargain that would reduce her sentence.

When Olmert was prime minister, he negotiated with Abu Mazen and likes to give the impression that, had he stayed on, there would be peace now. That’s why he’s said to have groomed himself to come back to finish the job and go down in history.

But that won’t happen, not only because some say that Olmert didn’t do as well as he’d like to tell us but, more important, because he’s likely to go to jail and thus be kept out of politics for good. This will be the first time in Israeli history that a prime minister goes to prison. Several other ministers have already done time for similar crimes. One of them, Arieh Deri, has made a political comeback after coming out of prison; he’s now the leader of the Shas party and hopes to get back into power soon, perhaps with Labor.

The cartoon is a bitter joke. Not only will Olmert remain in custody in Israel but so will the batch of convicted Palestinian terrorists. Their release was supposed to be a further installment in a deal that would allow peace negotiations to continue. But the ultra right-wingers in Israel’s right-wing government threatened to abandon ship if the prisoners were let go.

The cartoon was pointing to some of the problems Israel is facing within and without. Internally, though corruption isn’t unique to the Jewish state, it’s rampant here and is threatening the fabric of society. Other mayors have been in the dock. Soon even the former Ashkenazi chief rabbi may be convicted of putting his hand, literally, in the charity box by pocketing money that donors assumed were going to good causes.

Yet these are minor irritations in comparison to Israel’s external problems manifest in the failure to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. Each side blames the other and, for all I know, both sides are right.

It seems that neither is able to make the necessary sacrifices to normalize the situation, even though both know that they’d bring security and prosperity to their people. But both also know that each coalition currently in power would break up, and the vacuum may be worse than the uncertainty and the fear. As we know, politicians care more about their status wrapped in their ideologies than in the welfare of the people.

So we’ll have to continue to live with the status quo and politely tell John Kerry that though he tried hard, even his American clout wasn’t enough.

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