Lately, a new epidemic has been threatening to attack Israel’s public discourse. A peace conference, an agreement with the Palestinians, ceremonies with the US president – diseases from the past we thought we had already overcome. We got used to the comfortable life of no partner, no negotiations, and no hope; and suddenly, the peace virus is approaching again.
The cure that was found for it is rather simple: A dismissive hand gesture; let that bothersome mosquito flies away from here.
This hand gesture can be seen among government ministers, Knesset members, journalists, and many citizens. No worries, say ministers in the Labor party, which once upon a time carried the banner of peace, nothing meaningful will come out of these talks. Meanwhile, Prime Minister’s Office officials are whispering in every ear, and particularly the right ear, that there is no danger of peace, or an agreement heaven forbid. At most, we will see some sort of vague statement.
Large sections within the public and media are gladly adopting this skepticism and even adding, with joy almost, great measures of cynicism. There is no chance they will reach any kind of agreement on principles; after all, the gaps are so large. Jerusalem? Olmert won’t capitulate. Refugees? Mahmoud Abbas won’t compromise. Borders? The settlers won’t allow. Security? The Palestinians are incapable. The US? Bush is already a lame duck.
So, seemingly, this dismissive hand gesture is doing the job. There is no sense of a historical moment; the squares won’t fill with protestors, as peace is not approaching after all. However, all of this is just “seemingly.”
If the summit succeeds, the historical turning point shall come – if the principles of a final-status agreement are formulated, and if negotiations are launched on the details of the core issues. Yet it is very possible that the skeptics and cynics are right. The deal won’t be reached and the summit will fail. However, even at such case, we could see a historical turning point – for the worst.
In her speech in New York on September 24, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that now is the time. We have been given a historic opportunity for turning the two-state vision into reality, she said, and the next generations won’t forgive us if we fail.
She is right. The current generation won’t forgive either, because the price of failure may be terrible. The peace-loving Palestinians – and this is the majority on their side, will argue they have no partner on the Israeli side, and the only horizon they will see is the one of the fence, roadblock, and settlement. Meanwhile, peace-loving Israelis – and they are the majority on our side – will sink deeper into despair, and with it we shall see the sinking of the hope for a normal Jewish and democratic state.
Mahmoud Abbas will say: I tried to accommodate Israel; I agreed to condition the implementation of the agreement on gradual performance tests and accept an international presence in Palestine. I boycotted Hamas. After all, Israel understands it will never be dealing with more moderate Palestinians than me and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. If they are unwilling to agree, even with us, on a general document that will be used as a basis for negotiations, then apparently we truly removed the mask from Israel’s face.
Hamas will say: We were right. There is no diplomatic path with Israel. All of those on our side who believed in talks with Israel were wrong and deceived others. Only the violent path will bring results. Just like we kicked out the Jews from the Gaza Strip with several suicide attacks and Qassam rockets, we shall kick them out of the whole of Palestine. Fatah has nothing to offer, while we’re growing stronger.
The world will say: Apparently there’s really nothing that can be done. The Jews and Arabs are determined to continue killing each other. Just don’t talk to us about joining the European Union, or invite tourists, or ask for investments. If a Kadima-Labor government and an Abbas-Fayyad government are unable to reach even an agreement on principles, they can forget about us. We have other things to take care of.
And what will we be saying?
The writer is the directo- general of the Geneva Initiative