A resident of the legendary city of Chelm was looking for a lost coin on a lighted street, under a street lamp. He explained to passers-by that he had lost the coin on another nearby street, but it was useless looking for it there because the street lamp was broken and the street was dark. I first read this little story in the late lamented Weekly Word (Davar Ha-Shavua’) when I was in grade 1, and since then it has stayed in my consciousness for various reasons, and especially for strange ones. This week, I did not need to delve into the depths of my consciousness in order to understand the associative link. An entire state is looking for a trustworthy and effective Palestinian interlocutor and wants to endear itself to Abu-Mazen, but that affable and courteous man is not able to supply the goods. They are located, if anywhere, on the darkened street that is home to the Hamas leadership, which is also the elected government of the Palestinian people in the most democratic elections that were ever held in the Arab world.
On Saturday evening the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, received with great courtesy the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen), even displaying the flag of Palestine for his sake (which Olmert and his friends took care over the years to call the “PLO flag”, despite the protests of truly knowledgeable people like Uri Avnery) and introducing to him his gentle wife Aliza. But even the friendly columnists in our daily press described the pessimistic atmosphere and the “political impotence syndrome” exhibited by the two leaders.
Even a conservative columnist like Ben Caspit in Maariv conveyed to his readers the conclusion that the two are quite alienated from their peoples, that they have no real base of support in the publics they are supposed to represent. Olmert is involved up to his neck in the second Lebanon War and its aftermath, and has been forced to attach to his government a nearly overt Trojan Horse like Avigdor Lieberman; Abu-Mazen is immersed in conflict that threatens to develop into a full civil war, and is seen in the eyes of many of his people as one who does the bidding of the US Administration. Even Egypt finally reached the conclusion that there is no point in praying for the victory of Abu-Mazen in the Palestinian street, and that it is better to talk with Hamas in the hope of minimizing the damage and preventing the rise of leaders who will be much more extreme. The Israeli-US persistence in strengthening Abu-Mazen diminishes still more his chances of prevailing. It is true that the West is hinting to the Palestinians that under Abu-Mazen they will receive generous monetary and humanitarian aid, but not all of them are willing to pay the price, which is the continuation of the Israeli dominance in the small territory, a “poor man’s ewe”* indeed, that was left to them after the tragedies of 1948 and 1967.
For many years Israel squandered political energy in order to circumvent the PLO. Leftists tried to get through to the hearts of the leaders of the Israeli establishment and to explain to them that the PLO was a Muslim-Christian nationalist-based political coalition, and if we missed the opportunity to reach a peace agreement with them, the Islamic forces would rise to a hegemonic position within the Palestinian people. They dismissed us with contempt and loathing, at least until 1993 ( Oslo ), and not just because of Golda Meir-style imbecility. Governments of Israel were not inclined to pay the territorial price of Israeli-Palestinian peace and therefore they preferred rejectionist forces to rise to dominant positions in the Occupied Territories and in the Palestinian Diaspora. The Oslo episode tried to postpone real peace, and tried to create a kind of friendly cease-fire that would benefit only the Israeli side. That is what made it so easy for Bibi Netanyahu in 1996 and for Ehud Barak in 1999 to gnaw away at the achievements of Oslo and to bring us to this impasse. It was enough merely to undermine the stability a little in order to destroy the goodwill and to create an atmosphere of confrontation in order to “burst the illusions of peace” and to allow us to do whatever we wanted in the Occupied Territories.
Hamas’ rise to power placed us in confrontation with a resolute adversary, brought about the curse of the Qassams and of the counter-bombardment, and the taking root of the war-crime called “liquidations”.** Now we dream of a leader in Ramallah who is convenient to Israel, and we forget that the leaders of Israel caused Fatah’s popularity to deteriorate in the Occupied Territories. Even this week, Olmert satisfied himself with proposing to release a small number of prisoners, which will not particularly help Abu-Mazen. Everybody knows that without a large gesture regarding the prisoners, the meeting in Olmert’s house will have no far-reaching significance. The money that Fatah will receive, through circumventing the elected Finance Minister in the Palestinian Authority, is interpreted by the Palestinian public as a humiliating bribe. Already most senior Fatah people are suspected of personal corruption, especially of misappropriating foreign aid and diverting the money for the benefit of the higher-ups. Abu Mazen may be an important person with real achievements in the Palestinian national liberation struggle, but Israeli money, even if it actually belongs to the Palestinians in law, will not win over hearts and minds in the PA territories.
Even the creative ideological opposition within the Israeli establishment dreams of an impossible permanent solution with Abu-Mazen alone, and utterly ignores the reality on the ground. At the beginning of the week, Shimon Peres’ former aide, Uri Savir, unveiled a kind of recycled Mediterranean Platform***, an invigorated and optimistic one, in which he named the measures necessary to create a better region. I have many doubts, and also reservations about the conservative and pro-Western character of the Platform, but if people like Savir were successful in advancing such ideas, we would be living in a better world and in a region more congenial to those who live in it. In the style of Peres’ followers, Savir’s vision is superficial but nevertheless comprehensive, dealing in a few hundred words with the situation in the Balkans, in Cyprus, aiming at integrating the Mediterranean region into the European Union and partnership with NATO and ignoring the exploitative and selfish nature of US imperialism and its brutal depredations in Iraq and in other places. Also, Iran has no place in the surrealistic vision of Savir. He mentions it only at the end of his short list, in a negative tone. Thus it appears that his program is also to thwart political stagnation “in the face of the Iranian threat”. Of course Savir will not spare us a bombastic invocation of our region as the birthplace of the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, in an effort somehow to establish the value and the validity of the Mediterranean common denominator, which is the basis of his fertile vision.
I support Savir, and do not oppose his success with such ideas to inject a little oxygen into the rarefied atmosphere we are breathing. He is knowledgeable about the world as it is, and that is good. In his opinion, his ideas are in line with those of great humanists like James Baker and his colleagues, and are suited to the winds that will prevail in the USA after George Bush. One can feel that Savir longs for a Clintonite Washington that will turn the wheel back and repair the distortions that produced, among other things, the end of the peace process between us and the Palestinians. But even if he succeeds in convincing the 22 states that live around the Mediterranean Basin , as he puts it, to declare that they “absolutely renounce terror”, it is hard to understand how he will manage to implement the other clause, which really relates to the conflict here. Savir proposes “negotiations for a final-status agreement between Israel and Abu Mazen according to the Clinton Parameters, while recognizing former agreements between the two sides.”
Savir, just like Olmert, Peres and the other luminaries of the Israeli Establishment, refuses to recognize the reality in the Occupied Territories and the legal Hamas regime in the Palestinian Authority. I would like to make it clear that Hamas people are not the heroes of my dreams (just as I did not admire the heads of the PLO in the past), but tough enemies, many of whom are proponents of an obscurantist religious outlook that I do not accept. But they were duly elected, and Israel and the sponsors in Washington are supposed to speak in the name of democracy. The protracted ostracism of Hamas (including the economic boycott) brought about more escalation, terrible suffering in Palestine , especially in the Gaza Strip, and the intolerable hardship of the residents of Sderot and its surroundings. We must also speak with Abu-Mazen, who constitutes an important power factor in the Territories, but the main interlocutors are members of the elected government in the Palestinian Authority.
Instead of dreaming of the Mediterranean Basin and linking it to Europe we should in the first instance accept reality and act with recognition of its demands. Therefore I propose a plan that is thinner and more modest in its pretensions.
1. Israel will announce its recognition of the results of the elections in the Palestinian Authority and its willingness to negotiate with the leaders of the government of Palestine. Olmert will display the flag in honour of the elected officials and not only in honour of Abu-Mazen.
2. Israel will free thousands of prisoners as a gesture but will immediately proceed to talks, even if through intermediaries, with Hamas representatives for the liberation of Gilad Shalit.
3. Israel will immediately stop construction in the settlements and will not set up new settlements.
4. Israel will demand of Hamas not only to observe the cease-fire, but also to declare its intentions for the continuation of the political process.
5. Israel will completely stop the liquidations, and will allow economic aid to flow to the residents by means of the elected government.
6. The Government will respond positively to the Syrian call for negotiations and set up a permanent staff for a practical arrangement on the Golan in return for peace.
7. The Government will stop the excessive and ostentatious confrontation with Iran , and seek intermediaries for talks with the Iranians as it has done in the past, with representatives of the Ayatollahs.
8. Israel will initiate an international Jewish conference in Paris, the goal of which will be to forge new policies towards the Muslim communities in Europe. The Jewish-Muslim common interest will be emphasized in struggling against manifestations of racism in Europe and in defending ethnic minorities in the continent in the face of the fascist offensive against them.
9. The Government will spare no effort to remove all discrimination against Arab citizens, to recognize their rights, remove the illegal status of refugees in their own country and recognize all the unrecognized villages and link them to the electricity and water grids. The Establishment will emphasize that the Arab citizens can constitute a bridge between us and the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Peres, Olmert and Savir are looking for a coin on a lit street, but it is located on a darkened street. They would do well to understand that time is short and the tasks are many. The warning we heard from King Abdullah of Jordan about the price of missed opportunities is more important than the haughty words of leaders and high-ranking officers who refuse to hear and to listen.