Diplomacy: Raining shrapnel on their parade

Did the Grad missile that landed in an Ashkelon shopping serve as a wake-up call?

GRAD ASHKELON 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
(photo credit: Channel 10)
A late-afternoon rocket on an Ashkelon mall on Wednesday was all it took to bring everyone back down to earth, after days during which reality was suspended like one of those melting clocks in a Salvador Dali painting. Indeed, the week was full of enough incongruous statements, events and images - statements, events and images that demanded a suspension of belief - to keep a surrealistic painter busy for decades. Consider the following: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in an interview published in Newsweek, was asked whether he would resign in wake of the recent investigation against him. "I don't really see that this will bring any better outcome for the country at this point. Not that a person is indispensable or irreplaceable," Olmert said. "Right now, I think it will be a mistake [to leave], and I have a job to accomplish, a vision to realize. This is the great vision of peace which I think is possible this time more than ever." Looking out at the region from Israel's window, one has to ask oneself, however, what is it precisely about "this time more than ever" that makes Olmert think the great vision of peace will now take hold? Is it the rockets from Gaza? The flex of Hizbullah's muscle in Lebanon? Or the rhetoric of the Palestinian Authority leaders on "Nakba" day? Or, consider the following statement US President George W. Bush made to Al Arabiya Television the day before he flew to Israel to join in our 60th anniversary celebrations. Explaining his rationale behind the current drive to conclude a shelf agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Bush reiterated that the core idea was essentially to dangle before the Palestinians the prospect of what a state of their own would look like, compared to the misery of life under Hamas. Bush said he was confident - having met a lot of Palestinians and knowing them "fairly well" - that, faced with that stark choice, the Palestinians would opt for peace with Israel. "They want their children to grow up in peace, and they want to be able to make a living," he said. "Look, the Palestinians are very entrepreneurial people. They know how to make a good living, and that's all they want. And moms want their kids to go to schools, without fear of violence and fear of poverty and fear of disease." Granted that the last sentence is true, but how about the preceding one, about the Palestinians just wanting to make a good living? Would that it were so. That sentiment is problematic, because it underplays the power and motivating force of religion and ideology in people's lives, and reduces everything to a mere desire for material well- being, as if everyone would just be happy with a new Maytag washer and dryer. But Bush knows that isn't so. He spoke in his Knesset speech Thursday of a "clash of visions, a great ideological struggle" in the world. But what he glosses over is the degree to which large segments of the Palestinian population have become enslaved in this struggle to "a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committing murder, inciting fear, and spreading lies." Instead, he remains tied to a narrative that essentially holds that all the Palestinians really want is peace next to Israel, and that the tragedy over the years is that they have been hijacked by leaders with an extremist ideology. The Bush administration has never come to grips with the fact that in the 2005 elections, the Palestinians were not hijacked by the extremists, but rather willfully and freely gave the extremists the airplane. Just listen to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who accompanied Bush to Israel this week, as he gave reporters on Air Force One a telescopic survey of the last seven years of Mideast diplomacy. Of the 2005 elections, Hadley said, "To everyone's surprise, Hamas wins those elections. It's important, as the President said many times, to understand what that election was about. If you look at the Hamas candidates, many of them were not Hamas members; many of them were school teachers, professors - and their platform was not, 'Vote for me and let's push Israel into the sea.' Their platform was, 'Vote for me and let's work on sewers and roads and educational systems and building the institutions of a Palestinian state.'" The administration's certainty that what those who voted for Hamas wanted was better sewers and roads seems detached from reality, especially in light of polls showing that support for Hamas since that time has not dwindled substantially. Bush is making a leap of faith that, faced with the following choice - a more prosperous and secure life, but with Israel as a neighbor; or continued suffering for decades, but the prospect of a world without Israel - the Palestinians, indeed the Arab world as a whole, would opt for the former. Empirical evidence, those nasty little facts on the ground, don't necessarily bear that out. The Annapolis process that Bush and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were here pushing this week is premised on the belief that, faced with an offer they can't refuse - a viable and secure state - the Palestinians won't refuse. But what if they do? And then that rocket smashed into Ashkelon, and woke everyone up from their reverie. That rocket attack made a massive IDF incursion into Gaza more likely then ever, because this government will find itself under increasing public pressure to provide an answer to the public's growing sense, again, of intense vulnerability. And Israeli governments have a tendency to act when the people feel particularly insecure and vulnerable. A major IDF operation in Gaza will result, of necessity, in large numbers of Palestinian casualties, which will lead PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas to say that it is impossible to hold negotiations under those circumstances. And then all of Bush's and Olmert's talk of a time that is ripe for peace, and of Palestinians who only want to make a living, will have been drowned out, first by the sound of rocket fire from Gaza holding out the "promise" for many Palestinians of a world without Israel, and then by Israel's obligation to show - again - that this just isn't going to be.