The Hands of Esau
WHICH OF the two men is the leader of the greatest power on earth and which is the boss of a small client state?
A visitor from another planet, attending the press conference in
Olmert is taller. He talked endlessly, while Bush listened patiently. While Olmert anointed Bush with flattery that would have made a Byzantine emperor blush, it was quite clear that it is Olmert who decides policy, while Bush humbly accepts the Israeli diktat. And Bush's flattery of Olmert exceeded even Olmert's flattery of Bush.
Both, we learned, are "courageous". Both are "determined".
Both have a "vision". The word "vision", once reserved for
prophets, starred in every second sentence. (Bush could not know that in
The President and the Prime Minister have something else in common: not a word of what they said at the press conference had any connection with the truth.
ONE OF the most moving dramas in the Bible tells about our old blind forefather, Isaac, who wanted to bless his eldest son, Esau, a reddish and hairy hunter. But the second son, the homebody (or rather tent-body) Jacob, exploited the absence of his brother and went to his father in order to steal the blessing. He wore Esau's clothes and covered his arms with hairy goat skins. The ruse nearly failed, when the father felt the arms of Jacob and his suspicion was aroused.
That's when he uttered the famous words: "The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau." (Genesis, 27: 22).
Yet Jacob, the impostor, did receive the blessing and became the father
of the nation which was named after him (he was also called
Anyone who listens to him - not just at the press conference, but also on
every other occasion - hears words of peace and reason: The Palestinians must
have a state of their own. The "vision" must be realized while Bush
is president, because
That is the voice of Jacob. But the hands, well, they are the hands of Esau.
But in the meantime, the hands of Esau are working feverishly. All over the occupied territories, the settlements are being enlarged. The existing outposts remain untouched, new ones spring up from time to time. Around them, a well choreographed dance has evolved, a kind of formal ballet executed by the settlers and the army. The settlers set up a new outpost, the army removes it, the settlers return and set it up again, the army dismantles, and so forth.
In the meantime the outpost gets bigger and bigger. The government connects it to the electricity and water systems and builds a road. And the army, of course, protects it day and night. We cannot leave good Jews at the mercy of the evil Palestinian terrorists, can we?
Bush knows all this and still continues to blabber that "the illegal outposts must be removed". And so it continues: the voice is Jacob's voice, the hands are the hands of Esau.
BUT ONE cannot fool all of the people all of the time, to quote another American President who was slightly more intelligent than the present incumbent.
And so, after Olmert and Bush repeated the mantra about removing the outposts and freezing the settlements, one of the journalists popped an innocent question: How does this fit together with the announcement about the building of a huge new housing project at Har Homa?
If anyone thought that this would embarrass Olmert,
he was sadly mistaken. Olmert just cannot be
embarrassed. He simply answered that this promise does not apply to
This means that almost all the extensive building activities that are now going on beyond the Green Line are not covered by the Israeli undertaking to freeze the settlements. And while Olmert publicly announced this, President Bush was standing at his side, smiling foolishly and painting on another layer of compliments.
The following day, Bush visited Mahmoud Abbas
in Ramallah and told the shocked Palestinians that
the innumerable Israeli roadblocks in the West Bank, which turn the life of the
Palestinians into hell, are necessary for the protection of
Condoleezza Rice was quick to remind him in private that this was not
very wise, since he was about to visit half a dozen Arab countries. So Bush
hastened to call another press conference in
Altogether, much less than Bill Clinton's 2000 "parameters", and less than most Israelis are already prepared to accept. It amounts to 110% support for the official Israeli government line.
After that, Bush had dinner with Israeli cabinet ministers. He cordially shook the hand of Minister Rafael Eitan, the former spymaster who controlled the Israeli spy in Washington, Jonathan Pollard, whom Bush refuses to pardon. (Eitan would be arrested the moment he set foot on American soil.) He spoke cordially with the ultra-rightist Minister Avigdor Liberman, urging him to support Olmert. Throughout the dinner, he talked and talked, until Condi sent him a discreet note suggesting that he shut up. Bush, in high spirits, read the note out loud.
I HAVE mentioned more than once the British World War II poster which was
pasted up on the walls in
That is again the question now: Is this trip of Bush's really necessary?
The answer is: Of course. Necessary for Bush. Necessary for Olmert. Necessary for Abbas, too.
For Bush, because he is a lame duck, in the last year of his term, and
therefore almost paralyzed. In the
Olmert is well aware of the situation. When he declares that the last year of the term of his noble friend must be used, what he really means to say is: he cannot exert any pressure on us, he cannot even "nudge" us, as he promises. There is no need to remove even one single outpost for him. So let us squeeze the last drop of juice out of his presidency, before he is thrown onto the trash pile of history.
But Olmert needs the presence of Bush at his side, because his position is not much more secure than Bush's. Bush is bankrupt in a big way, after starting one of the most pointless and unsuccessful wars in US history. That is true for Olmert in a small way. He is bankrupt too, and he also started a pointless, failed war.
In two weeks time, the Winograd Commission will publish its final report on Lebanon War II, and everyone expects it to come down on Olmert like a 16 ton weight. He may survive, if only because there is now no credible substitute. But he needs all the help he can get - and what better help than the "Leader of the Free World" gazing at him with liquid eyes?
It's the old story about the lame and the blind.
THIS WAS NOT Bush's last presidential visit to
Perhaps he had intended to finish with a big bang, a historic climax that
would overshadow even his invasions of
True, this week something happened that put on a warning light. Some
small Iranian boats were reported to have made a provocative gesture against
the powerful American warships in the
That takes us right back to 1964 and to what has become known as the
But this time the red light went out quickly. The US Congress is not what it was, it seems that the Americans have no stomach for another war, the historical parallel was too obvious. Bush has been left without an option for war. He has been left with nothing.
Apart from Olmert's flattery, of course.