Prime Minister Olmert addresses Congress

This morning, I had the privilege of attending the address of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to the Joint Session of Congress. I sat with journalists, and several other bloggers, at the invitation of the Israeli embassy.

Olmert is an effective, forceful speaker and Congress received his speech well. Here’s an account by an AP reporter that appears on the Washington Post’s website.

Olmert expressed his belief that the Palestinians want to live in peace with Israel. He also says he believes that it is possible to bridge the differences between the two peoples. The evidence he presented, which strikes me as less than compelling, is that Israel was able to negotiate peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan.

Even assuming that Olmert is correct, it remains unclear that the path to peace lies in imploring the Palestinians to negotiate and stating that, if they don’t, Israel unilaterally will make huge territorial concessions. Moreover, there may be a tension between the two prongs of Olmert’s program. If the Palestinians decide to negotiate, they will be doing so from a position of unwarranted strength, since they now know that they can obtain large gains even if the talks break down.

In any case, the Bush administration (albeit for the wrong reasons) has at least persuaded Israel not to make its unilateral concessions just yet.

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