'Garbage time' for the U.S.
Rosner's Blog, Shmuel Rosner Chief U.S. Correspondent www.haaretz.com/rosner
Posted: May 25, 2006.
Half an hour after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ended his speech, Congressman Eliot Engel of New York was still excited. "It may be the best speech I've ever heard," he told Haaretz, in what one hopes is a slight exaggeration.
Speeches, like the visits of Israeli prime ministers in the United States, have an immediate impression and a long term impression. Olmert, it appeared yesterday, passed the first test with flying colors. The administration embraced him, Congress applauded him. In principle everyone supported him. One could not expect more. The long-term test will come down to the particulars.
Lowering expectations is the shortest way to success. When one waits for crumbs, even a humble meal is seen as a feast. Olmert cleverly lowered expectations and the American administration cooperated by displaying lack of enthusiasm. This helped Olmert both persuade the Israeli public not to expect too much and signal to the American president that he needs more to succeed politically.
Careful planning and suitable circumstances played into Olmert's hands. American officials who only wanted to "examine" Olmert's ideas moved to calling them "interesting" and then "bold."
In any case, all that was left for everyone to do was to pretend that "first we'll try every way to negotiate with the Palestinians" as long as they fulfill all their commitments from Olso to the road map and beyond.
In a few months, when everyone discovered - to their horror - that they don't intend to do so, it will be possible to embark on a new, safer road. The president removed the only obstacle remaining in Olmert's path. He made it clear that Olmert's alignment plan does not contradict Bush's vision.
Olmert's success indicates the Americans' failure. The administration has tried every formula and way and is all out of ideas. "I had no doubt the U.S. would support his plan," says Engel. Other senior Administration officials also realized that they had no better alternative to offer.
All that Olmert is required to do at this stage is to give the Americans the time they need - what the sports programs call "garbage time" until the game ends and a new, more interesting one begins.
The convergence plan will not be implemented immediately. After all, there is no plan yet, only an "idea," which is also still vague. Will the Jordan Valley be kept, will the army stay, will Israel withdraw up to the fence? These are not particulars of the plan but the plan itself.
Olmert has not disclosed any details because he cannot make any commitments so long as the real negotiations with the administration have not begun. The talks will determine what the U.S. will give in exchange for the realignment. These talks will be held in the next few months with no ceremonies and no microphones, in endless visits of White House envoys David Welch and Elliott Abrams.