Wedding bells or warning bells?

In an inconvenient marriage between Olmert and Abbas, Jerusalem could be cut up like a wedding cake.

Olmert Abbas 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Olmert Abbas 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
I wish I could draw. Instead of writing 1,000 words I would sketch a cartoon of Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas all dressed up for a wedding with nowhere to go. Not a pretty picture, I admit. But this was the image that sprang to mind as the two very odd friends argued about Jerusalem - not about its status, but about when to discuss it. They reminded me of a couple so in love with the idea of getting married that they refuse to talk about any of the serious issues - like where to live or how to raise their children - for fear that their different ideas would trip them up on the way to the wedding canopy. Such a marriage, if it takes place at all, is clearly doomed. Olmert and Abbas also know their chances of a happy union are slim. They might march off to "Here comes the Bride," arguably Richard Wagner's best-known piece, but Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, with its convoluted plot full of fateful decisions and deceit, might be more suitable. In fact, Olmert and Abbas might not so much march off into the sunset ceremony as waddle, in the view of some. Speaking at last week's Jerusalem Conference, Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu warned: "The prime minister said that we are not talking about Jerusalem, and that we are leaving it until last. But I say, if it looks like a duck, and it walks like a duck, then they plan to divide Jerusalem." Perhaps I should alter my mental cartoon to include the image of lame ducks. Or sitting ducks. At least I should add some ruffled feathers. Jerusalem is definitely what is now being called a "core issue." Obviously it must be resolved if a peace agreement is to be born of a union between Olmert and Abbas or any other unlikely couple. Like other core issues, such as the "right of return for refugees" and the eventual borders, it lies at the heart of the matter. Even the question of who has the right to decide Jerusalem's fate - the politicians, the voting public, or the Diaspora - has not been solved. The press has obsessed over whether the question of Jerusalem is currently "on the table," "under the table," or tabled for a different round of discussions some time in the future when the smaller issues are out of the way. Our bride, it seems, has a dress, a venue, a caterer and music in mind. She just doesn't have a date. A groom under the huppa pledges: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning. If I do not raise thee over my own joy, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth." He then stamps on a glass in an act usually attributed to commemorating the destruction of the Temple. Olmert might do well to put his foot down now and remember not just the destruction of the ancient sanctuary but also what his strange communion will mean for the future. Love might be blind but it is wise to go into marriage with your eyes wide open. Marriage requires compromise and sacrifice, it is true. In a happy marriage, however, they have to be made by both sides and be worth it. The international community, including the US and the European states, are eager to attend this wedding. You can almost imagine George W. Bush and Tony Blair practicing their best-man speeches in the mirror. The presents will undoubtedly be lavish. Like wedding guests everywhere, the celebrants here, too, would be happy to eat, drink, dance and then go home to discuss the chances of the bride and groom living happily ever after. Unfortunately, shlom bayit, domestic peace, is not likely to come out of these nuptials if the bride and groom can't even admit there is a problem to begin with. The guests want Israel and the PA to divide Jerusalem. But Jerusalem is far more than a city. It cannot be cut up for convenience as if it were simply some triple-tiered wedding cake with a plastic bride and groom perched on top. "If we withdraw from Jerusalem, Hamas will go in. It will turn into a haven for global terror. If you want peace in Jerusalem, leave it united," Netanyahu told the conference in the capital, addressing his voters. Meanwhile, Olmert and Abbas each have their coalition and political situation to consider. As American humorist Will Rogers once noted: "Elections are a good deal like marriages. There's no accounting for anyone's taste. Every time we see a bridegroom we wonder why she ever picked him, and it's the same with public officials." When the leader of the opposition is refreshing his slogans on the subject of a potentially divided Jerusalem (a winning tactic for Netanyahu in the 1996 elections) it is no surprise that the prime minister is promising Shas, his key coalition partner following the Israel Beiteinu walk-out, that the issue will be delayed until the final stage of the talks. The religious party is almost certain to follow in Israel Beiteinu's footsteps if Jerusalem is up for grabs and elections are in the air. Thus, while Olmert pledges Jerusalem is not yet on the agenda, Palestinian Authority officials insist that Israel is "prepared to withdraw from almost all the Arab neighborhoods and villages in Jerusalem." And Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, while not forgetting Jerusalem, would rather not talk to the press about it altogether. No wonder Shas MKs complain they are being accosted at weddings and other gatherings by those pushing for them to leave the government and bring Olmert down. On the Palestinian side, negotiator and Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo threatened that if Jerusalem and other issues are not resolved at this initial stage, the Palestinians will declare independence a la Kosovo. The warning was quickly downplayed by Abbas, however. When he met Olmert at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on February 19 for their biweekly meeting, the status of the city apparently was not raised. In a speech to the Presidents Conference of Major American Jewish Organizations on February 17, Olmert said he and Abbas had agreed to make Jerusalem the last item on the agenda because it was "the most sensitive and difficult" issue. But Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat continues to insist: "Core issues are inseparable. They are all one package, and there is no such agreement to exclude or delay any of them." Clearly it's too early to send out the invitations. If the wedding goes ahead, we are likely to find that the confetti consists of shredded paper recording previous peace agreements. The guests might have a good time, but you can kiss the bride and groom goodbye. The world of realpolitik is not known for its fairy-tale endings.