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There is something touching about the naivete of presidents George W. Bush and Shimon Peres, who this week outlined the steps needed to achieve the long-sought-after peace settlement in the Middle East.
Perhaps they genuinely believe, or at least hope, that we can reach a settlement. Perhaps they are just going through the motions because, after all, politicians have to strive for peace and promise a better future even if they know in their hearts that it is not really feasible.
There is no chance for peace because there will always be those among the Palestinians and Arab countries and in the Muslim world who will obstruct any attempt to reach a settlement that recognizes the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, to say nothing of one that does not guarantee the "right of return" of the Palestinian refugees.
Anyone who claims that the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan prove that peace is possible is forgetting that peace does not end with the signing of an agreement.
The peace in Jordan is being maintained, with great difficulty, by the royal family and the elite surrounding it. They do this contrary to the view held by the majority of the Jordanian public and despite vehement opposition from the Jordanian intelligentsia: academics and students, writers and journalists, doctors and lawyers.
The situation in Egypt is similar: President Hosni Mubarak maintains relations with Israel the way porcupines make love: very carefully. And that too evokes intense opposition from both the general public and the intellectuals.
The Jordanian crown is somewhat shaky, and the Egyptian regime could be overthrown by an uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood - and Israel could find itself surrounded by enemies in the south and east.
The least likely eventuality is that a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians will be found in the foreseeable future, at a time when we don't even actually know who represents them. Moreover, they would be the last to agree to a peace agreement that does not include an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 armistice lines and the return of the Palestinian refugees.
WE CANNOT deny that Israel has also contributed to the creation of a situation that cannot lead to peace. Is it at all possible to ever form a government that can evacuate all the settlements? And in order to reach a peace agreement with Syria, all of the Golan Heights too? And what about in the north? The government of Lebanon could fall at any moment to Hizbullah, not known for its favorable attitude to Israel.
And we haven't yet said anything about the Iranian threat. Historically speaking, it makes no difference whatsoever if the ayatollahs attain a nuclear weapon in three, five or 10 years. Sooner or later, they will manage to lay their hands on a lethal weapon. Even if they never use it, the mere threat of a Bomb is enough to impede Israel's diplomatic maneuverability.
After the Americans withdraw, defeated and humiliated, from Iraq, Arab ultranationalism and Islamist fanaticism will escalate even further. And what about terror? Hamas, Islamic Jihad - and al-Qaida? To say nothing of the danger of internal terror?
Peace? Vision? A new Middle East? Don't make me laugh.
DOES THAT mean the time has come to pack up and leave? Not at all. Israel is a wonderful invention, an enlightened democracy with a flourishing economy, a wonderful country to live in, even if - paradoxically enough - it is the only country in which Jews cannot live in safety.
All those who know a little history and geography are aware that there are dozens of countries in the world that don't live in peace with their neighbors, and which nevertheless manage over time to maintain a normal lifestyle - even for generations on end. That is our fate too.
What, then, is the point of all the diplomatic efforts - the talks, the Madrid Conference, the road map, the London agreement, the Oslo Accords, the Wye Agreement, the handshakes, the promises and the hopes? The point is in the dynamics of life, which abhors a vacuum.
We have to talk and meet and declare and sign and threaten and hope and predict and promise. All this is fine and good, as long as we understand that what is involved is a game of illusion.
The difficult reality is that there will never be true peace here, and it is important to internalize that fact so as not to set out on paths from which there is no return.
The writer is a former MK.