The erstwhile Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, joins a long list of people who wrote books from prison. We review his memoir ‘Searching For Peace: A Memoir of Israel’. Bookstrapping Rating: Three stars
This book by the erstwhile Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Olmert comes at a time when the current PM of Israel Naftali Bennett seems to be playing a role as a mediator between President Putin in Russia and President Zelensky in Ukraine. The world right now is indeed ‘Searching For Peace’ and in this memoir, Olmert outlines how he almost made peace with the Palestinians.
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First up, Ehud Olmert joins a long list of people who wrote books from prison. Letters from Birmingham Jail, by Martin Luther King Jr. and Conversations with Myself, by Nelson Mandela are other examples.
Now, why was Olmert put in jail? It started with allegations that he had illegally accepted large sums of money from a well-connected American businessman. He was acquitted of those but eventually imprisoned on a minor charge of bribes. He served 16 months in prison, using his time to write these memoirs.
Other than the geopolitics naturally involved in a political memoir, what stands out is that the man actually believed that peace was a possibility, as long as people were willing to look beyond their differences. Here's what we can take away.
Casual browsers of the book will be stunned by titles of the chapters, which are extremely direct. For eg; Chapter 11 is named, “There’s more than one way to assassinate a Prime Minister” and Chapter 9 is called, “Why Syria doesn't have a nuclear bomb!” This directness is refreshing.
1. At several levels, this book recognises the futility of conflict. During the period from 2006 through 2008, Olmert engaged in deep negotiations with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. The talks, Olmert says, came “within a hair’s breadth” of reaching a comprehensive peace deal. A map was said to have been drawn and shared, but the separation didn't happen.
2. Olmert backed the two‑state solution between Israel and Palestine. “We were very close. Mahmoud Abbas and myself were really very, very close,” he says. “Had I remained another three months in power in Israel, there would have been now for years peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And the fact that I was so close to make peace is perhaps one of the reasons why I was forced out.” Hmm… optimistic but controversial.
3. Olmert learnt humility the hard way and is willing to own his experience. He says, “I learned what I always knew in theory, but I didn't practice it personally….all citizens are equal to the law, whether you are a prime minister or not. Now, this is a painful experience, no doubt about it, but I must say that I emerged out of it with a lot of confidence.” He is of course talking about his time in jail.
4. It is quite natural that he equates leadership with courage. Sometimes, when the situation is as challenging as the Israel-Palestine conflict, he speaks of the need for strength, as well as the ability to stay the course. And all of this, has to be available in the leaders of both states - Israel as well as Palestine.
5. We can evidently see that just one leader wanting peace is not enough in the present day. What is noteworthy is that Olmert originally wrote the book in Hebrew. The original is much thicker than the one eventually published in America. He explains “there are so many other things that may interest the Israelis but not necessarily the potential American leaders.”
The biggest challenge for the reader who picks up ‘Searching for peace’ is the incredible variance in the manner in which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been projected. While some have sung paeans of his vision and his patience, others have trounced him in rather uncharitable words. For the reader, this can be a tough negotiation within - how much credence to give the assertions in the book.
However, the sailing is smooth once you remember that a memoir is but a point of view.
Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta is a columnist, biographer and bibliophile. She is credited with the internationally acclaimed Red Dot Experiment, a decadal six-nation study on how ‘culture impacts communication.’ Views expressed are personal.
(Edited by : Kanishka Sarkar)