Opening Lines: Been there, done that

At the heart of the problem of the planned ME conference is just who is a friend and who is an enemy.

October 4, 2007 19:16
Opening Lines: Been there, done that

olmert abbas 224.88. (photo credit: AP [file])

A cliched truism heard particularly following major terror attacks or ahead of summit meetings holds that "Peace is made with enemies." Israel is spoiled for choice. It's friends we're lacking. And with whom would you rather sit down and discuss how to run your neighborhood? The diplomatic scene is huffing and puffing as it struggles to reach November's summit meeting, not that the heights are so dizzying. The expectations have been lowered since President George W. Bush dramatically announced the new initiative - or what passes as new in the international peace arena - in his July address. It is hard to maintain optimism about a breakthrough when it's not clear who will be invited, who will agree to attend, what will be on the agenda, or even what the aim of the gathering is. The latest peacemaking drive relies on the principle of harnessing moderate forces. That's moderate as in Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. Bush is hoping that Riyadh can be relied on to rein in hostile forces in the Gulf and basically bring about world peace - even though it itself does not recognize Israel's right to exist and hardly seems to be on better terms with Syria or Iran. At the heart of the problem of the planned summit is just who is a friend and who is an enemy, and indeed, exactly with whom Israel is meant to be making peace. As historian Guy Ma'ayan put it in an opinion piece in Ma'ariv this week: "The festive declaration on the existence of a Palestinian partner for a permanent solution seems to have been taken from some delusional satirical sketch, or, at best, [will be] the subject of Barbara Tuchman's next book." In The March of Folly, Tuchman set out three criteria that distinguish true follies from, say, ordinary incompetence on the part of any particular ruler: contemporaries must perceive the foolishness; a better course of action must have been available; and the course of action must have been pursued by a group rather than an individual over the course of more than one political generation. The crunch, of course, is the different perceptions of what would be a better option than tying Israel's fate to a leader like Mahmoud Abbas, whose situation among his own people is so precarious that he dare not venture into half of the territory he is ostensibly meant to represent. Were Ehud Olmert and Abbas to enter Gaza City together, Hamas would have a hard time deciding which is public enemy No. 1. We have tried Oslo I and Oslo II, and many cities in Israel bear the scars to prove it: memorials set up to commemorate ordinary citizens blown up on buses, in restaurants, wedding halls and other places of entertainment. Not to mention the psychological scars. Abbas and Olmert might be able to get along OK (for summit small talk they could have a friendly chat about the problems of being stunningly unpopular politicians before getting down to the hard stuff like borders, refugees and Jerusalem). The question is whether Abbas and the Hamas leaders can agree on anything. While Olmert and Abbas might be friendly enough to prop each other up politically, Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh are clearly not even on speaking terms. The Post's Khaled Abu Toameh on October 1 revealed the extent to which Abbas is willing to go to get at Hamas - via a video hoax of an honor killing that did take place, but in Iraq, not Gaza as the Fatah narrative had it. (The question of Palestinian fabrications for the media has reemerged this week, too, with the charge by the director of Israel's Government Press Office, Danny Seaman, that France 2 TV station staged the events surrounding the death of Muhammad al-Dura in Gaza in 2000.) Even before the summit, there have been discussions about the value of releasing Palestinian prisoners to help Abbas in his fight against Hamas. IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi uncharacteristically threw his cap into the arena by criticizing Olmert for handing over prisoners while Hamas continues to hold kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit in Gaza. As one astute Post reader pointed out in a letter, it's all very well for Israel to make a gesture to the Palestinians in honor of Ramadan, but what goodwill did the Palestinians show Israel in honor of Rosh Hashana and the Jewish holiday season which coincided with the Muslim festival? The release of security prisoners, which has become almost as routine as the arrest of the terrorists in the first place, is touted as a confidence-building measure. Unfortunately, when the foundations they are placed on are so shaky it is almost inevitable that someone is going to get hurt when the confidence-building blocks come tumbling down, even if the blocks aren't so solid. As Post columnist Caroline Glick noted: "No mention is made of the fact that there is something terribly wrong with Palestinian society which views these attempted murderers as heroes and champions of their cause. The fact that Abbas says there is a direct link between his political strength and the freeing of these terrorists is not viewed as significant." Peace talks, far from being a friendly get-together, have a habit of exacerbating the very conflicts they are meant to end: Not only the Oslo Accords led to an outbreak of Palestinian terrorism; the "Second Intifada" in 2000 has as much to do with the Camp David talks as Ariel Sharon's ill-fated visit to the Temple Mount. And just this week, slightly overlooked as a "foreign" story, was the news that at least 10 peacekeepers had been killed in an attack in Darfur. They were the well-intentioned victims of the latest round of fighting between rebels and Sudanese government forces, each apparently trying to improve their position ahead of a peace conference scheduled for later this month in Libya. It's not that Israel and its Arab neighbors can't make peace. Both Egypt and Jordan have managed to maintain ties, not necessarily cordial but at least not confrontational. The two countries are now as concerned as Israel - if not more so - about the spillover of the internecine Palestinian fighting. But the Hamas-Fatah divide is reminiscent more of the fractured Lebanon of Amin Gemayel with which Israel tried to make peace in 1983. A peace summit has its place: But perhaps we should wait and see if the Palestinians are able to agree to live in peace with each other before we make what Olmert has already said will be "painful concessions." After all, the Saudi-brokered Mecca Accord between Hamas and Fatah in February has failed miserably. Focusing on safely reaching the US-sponsored Saudi-oriented summit meeting rather than addressing how to reach a sustainable peace is a bit like planning a spectacular wedding without considering the nature of the marriage. There is no shortage of "friends" to invite, but the honeymoon is likely to be extremely brief.

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