Monday, October 8 was the opening session of the 2007/2008 winter Knesset assembly. The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, had been in recess since August, giving its members the opportunity to enjoy a vacation period which included the religious holidays. This is not to say that these politicians were entirely on holiday, as many of them use these break periods to catch up on their private and often questionable business affairs. In fact, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who gave the opening speech of the winter session, seems to have been very busy lately trying to consolidate his legal defense against a number of allegations relating to his private business affairs.
Olmert, whose, real estate dealings in Jerusalem and connection with Bank Leumi, the country’s oldest and most well known bank, seems to be slipping further down the slimy slope of financial irregularities which puts an even bigger cloud over his head; much to the delight of his political enemies. Olmert tried to put on a strong face by saying that the Israeli government has made no agreements with the Palestinians prior to the scheduled international summit conference in Annapolis Maryland, now said to only be coming off in two months time. The conference was to have commenced in only a few weeks; but was post phoned due to a lack of progress by Israel in making any tentative deals with the Palestinian Authority, and further remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that it would be useless to hold such a meeting without any concrete itinerary by both Israel and the Palestinians.
Concrete itinerary: that was something that was severely criticized by Knesset opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, who expressed great doubts that any kind of agreement could be made with Mahmoud Abbas. The P.A. President only represents part of the Palestinians due to Gaza being under the control of Hamas party leader Ismail Hananyah. As both Israel and the United Stated refuse to have any dealings with Hamas, which is considered a ‘terrorist entity’, the scheduled summit in Maryland is virtually doomed from the outset.
From many points of view, including Mr. Netanyahu’s, that’s ok with them as they believe that this conference is a complete non-starter. With Palestinian rockets continuing to be launched against Israeli settlements and towns, including the launching of the longer range Grad missile, and Corporal Gilad Schalit still being held captive in Gaza, any kind of conference is almost doomed before it begins. As Secretary Rice remarked during her last visit to the region, “We are looking for something more than just a ‘photo session’ and a few handshakes”.
Both Prime Minister Olmert and Opposition leader Netanyahu did not speak kindly regarding the problem concerning Iran; especially in the aftermath of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent address before both Columbia University and the U.N. General Assembly. It might be said that at least the two Israeli leaders did agree on something!
Despite all the mixed feelings it was nice to see that Israel does have a very vibrant democracy, and not just a “puppet parliament “as in countries like Syria and Iran.