Another Tack: Culture of kvetch

What was an intriguing enough read originally, evolved into a spine-chilling forecast six years later.

I don't know how many times I quoted the definition of lunacy popularly ascribed to Albert Einstein, but it certainly appeared in more than a few Tacks. The characterization of insanity as "doing the same thing over and over yet expecting different results" came to mind again when I chanced upon a yellowing clipping from Haaretz. Entitled "The Day the Peace Died" and published on September 14, 2001, it featured a very lengthy interview granted to Ari Shavit by Ehud Barak's ex-foreign minister, ultra-dove Shlomo Ben-Ami. His extensive monologue offered spellbinding scrutiny of Barak's 2000-2001 near-desperate peace-drive that began in Stockholm, continued in Camp David and expired ignominiously in Taba. What was an intriguing enough read originally, evolved into a spine-chilling forecast six years later, because our latest government is intent on replicating Barak's entire delusional daredevil fiasco. Moreover, Ehud Olmert is about to do so under conditions inestimably worse than when Barak foolhardily performed somersaults on the precipice. Barak's own egregious territorial generosity undercut all future Israeli bargaining positions. Subsequently Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement emboldened terror to the point of installing Hamas hegemony in Gaza. Instead of super-icon Arafat, Israel's current interlocutors are Ramallah's virtual-leader Mahmoud Abbas and his clique, trusted and respected by nobody in the Mideast apart from a select band of Israelis serially addicted to making nice to genocidal foes. These Israelis' self-deception flouts rational thought and cannot be shaken even by overwhelming evidence of their folly. That same Abbas already starred in the detailed journals Ben-Ami kept throughout the 2000 talks. Not only wasn't Abbas then more temperate than Arafat, but he was in fact the firebrand who ignited and fanned opposition to dropping Right of Return rhetoric, i.e. the demand that Israel be inundated by untold millions of hostile Arabs called Palestinian refugees. Then as now, Palestinians mumbled vague recognition of Israel but would under no conditions accept it as a Jewish state, since that concedes the Right of Return - the "right" of Arabs to overrun Israel, thereby obviously obliterating its Jewishness. That's why PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat last week flatly ruled out any Palestinian reconciliation with a Jewish Israel. IT WAS ALL repetitively coached in precisely the same words during months of prolonged haggling in 2000. When it was over, Ben-Ami retroactively understood that Israel "operated under misguided conceptions about the other side's intentions. For Arafat Oslo constituted a mega-camouflage behind which he exerted political pressure and employed varying measures of terror to undermine the very notion of a two-state solution." Ben-Ami notes that while Israel kept retreating from one "red line" to another, eventually agreeing to hand over almost anything the Palestinians insisted upon, including much of Jerusalem and its Holiest of Holies, "never at any point did the Palestinians so much as draft any counterproposals." That, Ben-Ami belatedly concluded, "was the crux of the matter. The Israeli side forever finds itself in a dilemma: Either we quit because this bunch is unwilling to suggest anything, or we manage one more concession, one more kvetch [squeeze in Yiddish]. At the end, however, even the most moderate person arrives at a point in which he admits to himself that the other side has no endgame. Kvetch after kvetch but they're never satisfied. It never ends." With painstaking detail, Ben-Ami lists each and every kvetch, each and every vital position from which Barak and his team were reluctantly pushed by the intractable Palestinians. Even while Israeli negotiators sacrificed Jerusalem, the Palestinians "weren't ready for as much as allowing a face-saving formulation for Israel." A senior American go-between opined to Ben-Ami that "all the Palestinians want is to humiliate you." They even degradingly rejected a last shameful Israeli entreaty for "subterranean sovereignty underneath the Temple Mount, denying that we have any right whatsoever there." When Ben-Ami was willing to make do with a Palestinian "undertaking not to dig on the Mount, because it's holy to Jews, they adamantly refused to agree to any mention of any sanctity anyplace for Jews." What distressed Ben-Ami most "wasn't just their refusal but how they refused - with total contempt. They were dismissive and arrogant towards us. I realized... they weren't willing to make even an emotional or symbolic conciliatory gesture. In the deepest sense they were loath to acknowledge that we have any claim here." When territorial swaps were proposed, "they'd only consider taking possession of Kochav Yair" -where Barak resided at the time. There were also not-so-veiled threats of violence. Erekat named September 13 as a deadline. Two weeks thereafter the intifada raged. CAMP DAVID eventually flopped, according to Ben-Ami, because "the Palestinians refused to give us any inkling about where their demands would terminate. Our impression was that they constantly sought to drag us into a black hole of another concession and another, without there being anything like a discernible finish line." Ben-Ami's unavoidable conclusion was that "more than the Palestinians want their own state they want to condemn ours... they always leave loose ends... to keep viable the option that at some future point someone would pull these ends and unravel the Jewish state." To be sure, like his fellow leftists, Ben-Ami even then couldn't bring himself to fully renounce his patently untenable ideological creed. But though still professing faith in his smitten idols, he nonetheless cautioned against "ignoring what was revealed to us - Palestinian and Islamic positions which defy our very right to exist. We mustn't continue the culture of kvetch which might lead us to suicide... We must no longer relinquish Jewish and Israeli patriotism. We must understand that we aren't always guilty. We must learn to say, 'Up to here and no farther.' If the other side aims to destroy even this nucleus, we must steadfastly defend it." BEN-AMI at least learned something. But Olmert, now out to magnify all of Barak's errors and then some, evidently paid no heed and absorbed nothing. Which brings us back to what Einstein called those who obsessively repeat proven mistakes.