Editor’s Notes: What’s in a name?

By David Horovitz May 12, 2006

What to call Olmert’s ‘hitkansut’ plan?

‘I don’t know where the term ‘convergence’ came from, said the man sitting next to me, who works in the Prime Minister’s Office, rather plaintively.

‘Convergence,’ the most prevalent translation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s “Hitkansut” plan, “doesn’t convey what we want to convey,” the official went on. ”We need a term that indicates how the move strengthens Israel, boosts its Jewish demographic, improves its security deployment. We need a word that sends a positive message. What we really ought to call it is `consolidation.’”

Lo and behold, a few days after I had this conversation, The Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon reported on our front page that Olmert’s officials were holding discussions about precisely such a name change. “Goodbye `convergence,’ hello `consolidation,’” blared our headline.

”Convergence,” a government source was quoted as saying in the article, doesn’t really mean anything, and sounds more like a geometric term than a diplomatic one. “Consolidation,” by contrast, the source said, is far more appropriate, signifying what is being planned: the consolidation of existing settlement blocs.

Except that, a full week later, official spokespeople are still using “convergence” rather than “consolidation.” The semantic struggle, it turns out, is still being waged.

This is because the Israeli political and the diplomatic hierarchies have very different semantic agendas. For domestic political consumption, what’s needed is a word that signifies the bolstering of Israeli interests, an action being taken primarily, if not exclusively, for the good of our nation. “Consolidation” fits that bill just fine.

But the diplomatic corps wants a term that will play well overseas – a term, that is, which signifies Israeli generosity vis-a-vis the Palestinians. For in the international arena, Israel wants to be perceived as embarking on an undertaking that will benefit our neighbors, and to reap the resultant brownie points, including, it is hoped, some degree of formal endorsement for the unilaterally redefined borders.

If Israel is “consolidating” for its own benefit, after all, why should the United States or anybody else reward us with recognition for our new dimensions? But if by contrast, we are engaged in, say, “retrenchment,” and painfully so, well that’s a whole different story. “Retrenchment” sounds like a heroic and selfless move worthy of international support. And “retrenchment,” you will be interested to know, was indeed one of the options being weighed by Israel’s diplomatic policymakers in recent days as a possible replacement for “convergence.”

Weighed and rejected, along with less euphemistic terms like “pullout” and “withdrawal,” and, to distinguish this move from last summer’s, “disengagement.”

Other suggestions being contemplated at the highest levels have included “rebordering,” “ingathering” and “realignment.” But none of them is deemed to really fit the bill. The fact that some of the potential substitutes are not actually words at all may also have counted against them, even though it is not unknown, when all else fails, for certain Israeli spokespeople to resort to non-English terminology.

Amid the ongoing “convergence” renaming debate, one sometimes gets the impression that as much time is being devoted to the question of what to call the plan as to its efficacy. Alternative ideas for grappling with the Hamas-led PA – ranging from a much more steadfast approach, to initiatives centering on PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas – are still sometimes tentatively raised by more daring officials. But they are being quickly shoved aside. “Convergence,” or whatever we wind up being told it’s called, seems to be the only game in town.

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