Barely muddling through

When they indulge in writing history, journalists seem hardly able to beat their innate penchant to vilify political and military leaders.

Boomerang By Raviv Drucker and Ofer Shelah Keter Publishing (Hebrew) 430pp., NIS 88 When they indulge in writing history, journalists seem hardly able to beat their innate penchant to vilify political and military leaders. As a rule, this proclivity rather invigorates the democratic system and ought to be preserved. Boomerang, the much talked about investigative venture by journalists Raviv Drucker and Ofer Shelah, reflects the writer's resolve to expose the messy trajectory of the Israeli political and military elite during the last five years. Almost all the leading participants - the senior politicians, the security moguls and the army generals - appear to have been obsessed by some fixation or other, and they all excelled in being fickle. Drucker and Ofer report that the habit of failing to seize opportunities has infected most governments since the Oslo agreement of Rabin in 1993, although the degree of complicity in missing opportunities has varied. They cite for example Barak's bold attempt in 2000 to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinian leadership was definitely an exception, but even this isolated case was not free of mishandling. Up to Sharon's current disengagement project, missing potential opportunities was usually a deliberate act of faith by Likud's leaders. The authors attribute the brunt of the blame to Palestinians, and particularly to Arafat - though it appears a bit grudgingly - a major share of the blame for torpedoing the advancement of the peace process. They maintain, however, that Israel cannot shake off its ultimate responsibility for letting the deadlock go on so long. They have presented considerable evidence to substantiate their censure, but were not able to overcome their own fixations. For one, they fall prey to the prevalent notion among Leftist circles that the continuation of "talks" is a sacred obligation that must always be practiced. True, judicious conduct should never appear to reject the talking option, but its application would do better if used with discrimination. Fruitless discussions can at times cause damage, while tactical avoidance of talks could occasionally serve as an incentive for more meaningful subsequent discussions. Misconstruing the other party's intentions was common to both the Israelis and Palestinians. Once you persuade yourself that your interlocutors are all villains, you inevitably tend to believe that the only solution is to eliminate them. That is precisely what happened to Israel's policy in the first two to three years after Sharon assumed the premiership in 2001. The Palestinians convinced themselves that Israel had perceived the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as permanent. After all, since 1977 most Israeli governments were headed by the Likud, and consolidating and expanding the settlements was a cornerstone of its policy. Even under Labor Prime Ministers, substantive concessions were made to please the settlers under different guises. Substantial segments in Israel, say Drucker and Shelah, considered the Palestinians a suicidal society that would never accept Israel's existence. The majority of both Palestinians and Israelis wanted peace, but believed for a long time in the necessity of war to achieve their dreams of tranquility and security. Sharon and his senior associates - though not necessarily all motivated with the same intensity - pursued a hard-line policy towards the Palestinians, maintaining that "there are no partners," and in fact suppressed the simple truth that there would never be partners to a doctrine of a Greater Israel. When Ami Ayalon and Nusseibeh produced their agreement based on a two-state solution, and when Beilin and Abed Rabo presented their Geneva plan demonstrating - at least in principle - that some Palestinian leaders, perhaps not the most powerful ones, were prepared to accept an agreement with Israel, the extremist notion that "there are no partners" started to show some cracks. Sharon and his associates fiercely rejected the compromises attained by Ayalon's and Beilin's agreements. Gradually, in Drucker and Ofer's view, Sharon realized that the majority of Israelis were not prepared to accept his "do-nothing" policy anymore. The mounting international isolation, the continued economic stagnation and rising unemployment strengthened the realization that economic growth comes only when there is a political hope on the horizon. All these factors led Sharon to his disengagement project from Gaza. The authors claim that it took some time for Bush and his administration to realize how useful this Sharon formula could be. But once they endorsed it in private and in public, it left the rejectionist elements within the government no way of halting Sharon's scheme. What emerges in the book as a major handicap is Sharon's past policy of almost totally eliminating the somewhat more pragmatic Palestinian leaders. That policy, say the authors, has only built up Hamas. And that is how the "Boomerang" effect was achieved. The writer is a former ambassador to Mexico and the Netherlands, and ambassador at large.