It's common business practice for companies to probe likely customer reaction by dispatching press releases and announcing ambitious plans. Feedback indicates marketplace appeal and spurs actual development of new products.
Nowhere have there been more enthusiastic or successful practitioners of such trial ballooning than on Israel's Left. Eventually the gullible public bought into much of what was in the past capriciously tested on the farthest fringes of left field and hawked with the active connivance of bosom buddies in the media.
Whatever we fell for hardly made us better off. Far from it. Indeed, trial balloons we failed to instantly pierce gave us nothing but grief, ongoing risk and disaster - Oslo being the most notorious of them.
That balloon - originally stitched together by Ron Pundak and Yair Hirschfeld, who conducted the preliminary contacts on behalf of Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin - seems indestructible despite all the bombs, bullets and assorted deadly projectiles that riddle it. Perforated, scorched and bloodstained, it still hovers overhead, haunts us and threatens our existence.
That's why any other trial balloons this same crew sends up should send chills down our spines. What may seem dismissible, even ridiculous just now, may sooner than later become accepted official policy - regardless of its catastrophe-potential.
Therefore, never - but never - downplay any recommendation coming from the quarters most preferred by reckless opinion-makers and trendsetters. Follies they cheer as prudent and high-minded will in time be imposed upon us.
If Beilin thinks that convicted terrorist murderer Marwan Barghouti - sentenced to five life terms and 40 additional years - deserves freedom as a freedom-fighter and political leader, odds are that Barghouti won't rot even for the remainder of one lifetime behind bars. Beilin & Co. have the power to implement their proposals.
Particularly worrying is the fact that this isn't their first Barghouti-balloon. In 2004 Pundak - director-general of the Peres Peace Center - already agitated for Barghouti's release. In a gushing letter he wrote Barghouti that his "imprisonment is a terrible mistake."
Nobody so much as rapped his knuckles.
THE CALLOUS indifference to Barghouti's victims and gross contempt for Israel's courts was rendered tolerable and respectable.
Once that initial pro-Barghouti trial balloon wasn't shot down, Beilin could try again. When his bunch hobnobbed with Arafat's envoys, they could at least claim that never-prosecuted Arafat was a legitimate negotiation partner. They could even claim faith in Arafat's ability to transform miraculously overnight from carnivore to herbivore. They could claim sincere trust that the noxious concoction they brewed in Oslo would bring peace.
But they deserve no residual benefit of our doubt after their misguided misadventure was exposed as calamitous. Barghouti, moreover, commissioned atrocities after Israel agreed to surrender nearly all its Six Day War gains. The freedom he was supposedly fighting for was offered on Israel's silver platter, yet spurned violently.
Barghouti's trial was public and prolonged, with all due-process perks. He was given every break, while the world's press avidly highlighted his high jinks. Despite these, it was proven beyond a doubt that Barghouti ordered and financed terror outrages. The documents, recordings and checks submitted into evidence were sufficient for conviction, even without his fiery rhetoric, warnings, bluster and boasts about his ghoulish escapades.
If Barghouti is Beilin's peace partner, then who needs such peace? We'd live longer without it.
Why boost a murderer's morale and bolster the cynical masquerade that presents him not as the slayer of innocents but as a prisoner of conscience?
It's tempting to relegate all this to the realms of clinical psychology, but Beilin et al. aren't off their rockers. They're out to salvage Oslo no matter what the cost in Israeli lives.
Hence, the fact that Barghouti garnered 96% of the votes in the Fatah primaries suffices for Beilin to rehabilitate him as a legitimate leader. If no peace partner exists on the other side to resuscitate Oslo, then Beilin can declare Barghouti one.
It's not that the whopping support Barghouti amassed isn't significant. It certainly is. But not in the way Beilin contends. The homicide contractor's massive landslide doesn't determine that he's the man we must talk to; it shows there's no interlocutor because the Arab street adulates terror.
Consider how Israeli opinion reacts to the exceedingly rare instances of a lone Israeli on a killing spree. There's wall-to-wall denunciation and genuine revulsion from Israel's entire political arena. Israeli society doesn't underpin or condone, much less applaud murder.
Not so in Barghouti-land, where terrorists win elections, are glorified and proclaimed shahids, and where frenzied thousands vow vengeance and bloodshed in their name. Arab youngsters are indoctrinated in the cult of death, aspiring to emulate suicide bombers. Arab media, schools and mosques encourage and inculcate such reverence. After instances of the worst carnage, like the Pessah Seder massacre in Netanya, candies are distributed to jubilant crowds. Effigies of burning buses are staple features of school pageants and summer camps devoted to training future Barghoutis.
PA leaders must be prodded from abroad to condemn mass slaughter, and when they at last grudgingly murmur something, they deplore the damage to Palestinian interests - not the bloodletting.
Is this the grassroots popularity via which Beilin seeks to justify pardoning Barghouti? His trial balloon promotes nothing even remotely beneficial. It's what the trade calls vaporware - products which despite the promise and the hype aren't in reality feasible. In other words, like his balloon, Beilin - be it due to deliberate duplicity or a negligent degree of optimism - is full of hot air.
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