This past Sunday brought with it a major new development, one that is likely to affect the future of the entire region: Ehud Olmert is finally upset about something.
Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, the prime minister lashed out, invoking unusually harsh language to make his point, so much so that it immediately made waves, generating noisy headlines for much of the rest of the day.
And just what, you might be wondering, was the object of the premier's newfound wrath? No, it was not the Katyusha rockets fired into the northern Galilee from Lebanon last week that had the premier up in arms. Neither do the daily Palestinian attempts to bombard Sderot and Ashkelon seem to have affected his mood.
Indeed, even as Iran rapidly advances toward nuclear prowess, our fearless leader's blood pressure has remained fairly stable.
The issue that Olmert chose to single out above all else was none other than the Jewish people's stubborn determination to build and settle the Land of Israel.
And boy was he fuming.
Referring to the various hilltop communities that have sprouted up in recent years throughout Judea and Samaria, which the media likes to besmirch by labeling them "illegal outposts," Olmert said it was a "disgrace" that they had not been demolished.
"The fact that illegal outposts are still standing," he told his ministerial colleagues, "even though the last two governments decided to evacuate them is a disgrace."
With all due respect to the prime minister, the fact that there are still plenty of Jewish youth who are willing to dedicate themselves to reclaiming our ancient patrimony would hardly seem to qualify as a "disgrace."
If anything, it should serve as a source of pride and hope, for it demonstrates that true Zionist idealism and love of the land continue to resonate among the next generation.
Quite honestly, if that is what passes for a "disgrace" these days, then I'm all in favor of more such ignominy. As the famed English actress, Dame Diana Rigg, once wryly put it, "I hope there's still a tinge of disgrace about me." But somehow, I think it is apparent to much of the Israeli public that when Prime Minister Olmert denigrates others as being a "disgrace," he is in fact merely engaging in what psychologists call good, ol' fashioned "projection."
Or, as the great sage Shmuel pointed out in the Talmud (Kiddushin 70a), he that declares others unfit is essentially revealing his own flaws.
FOR IN fact the real disgrace is when a premier with no mandate, no foresight and no popular support arrogates to himself the right to make fateful decisions of historic import in a transparent effort to save his political skin.
With the January 30 Winograd report on the 2005 Lebanon fiasco looming ominously over the horizon, Olmert dispatched Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Monday to formally begin discussing "core issues" such as the division of Jerusalem and the future of Judea and Samaria with the Palestinians.
Olmert knows that the only possible way he can avoid political oblivion is to try and position himself as a peacemaker heavily invested in a process with our neighbors, as that will make it more difficult for the Labor Party and the Left to justify toppling him once the report is made public.
In fact, Olmert's desire to retain power is so strong and deep-seated that he seems to have few qualms about crossing virtually every one of the few red lines that Israel still has.
Even on the issue of the so-called "right of return" of Palestinian refugees, which has long enjoyed an iron consensus across the Israeli political spectrum, the prime minister has indicated that he is ready to capitulate. As Channel 10 television reported (January 10), Olmert has agreed to allow at least 50,000 Palestinian "refugees from 1948" to "return" to Israel as part of a final peace deal.
The prime minister's cynical political calculations are also what lie behind his outburst over the "disgrace" of the "illegal outposts" earlier this week. Aides to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is no fan of the outposts himself, were quick to blast the premier, accusing him of trying to torpedo Barak's attempts to resolve the matter peacefully.
The aides assert that Barak reached a deal with leaders of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria that would entail the voluntary relocation of certain outposts, but that Olmert has repeatedly sought to undermine the understandings, preferring instead to use force.
"It seems as though the prime minister is actually seeking a violent confrontation with the settlers for political gain," Barak's associates told Haaretz (January 14), adding, "This sort of frivolity could end in violence."
Hey, but as far as Olmert is concerned, a few broken Jewish bones and some nasty cerebral concussions seem like a small price to pay when compared with the political capital he might possibly reap from confronting the settlers that everyone loves to hate.
James Madison, one of America's founding fathers, once wrote, "Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power." And it is that abuse, which Mr. Olmert has so artfully been practicing, that is truly the greatest disgrace of all.