Jewish Journal

Peace in the Mideast remains an illusion

by Arthur Cohn

Posted on Jan. 10, 2008 at 7:00 pm

President Bush's historic visit to Israel and the Middle East can only delay the inevitable disappointment.

Why? It follows the enormous anticipation of the Annapolis conference

in late 2007 -- a conference the overwhelming majority of Israelis believe failed. Since then, the expectations of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as expressed in Annapolis, that an agreement can be ready in 2008, have proven to be naïve and utterly unrealistic.

But unrealistic expectations, misplaced hopes and wasted diplomacy seem to be a hallmark these days of Middle East politics. Prior to the Annapolis conference, Olmert voiced a dangerous delusion when he stated: "For the first time, there is a Palestinian leadership that recognizes Israel as a Jewish state."

The truth is, Abbas has never spoken of a "Jewish state." At the 2005 Aqaba summit and ever since, he declared President Bush's reference to a "Jewish state" as "unacceptable." Instead of confronting this and countless other grave problems, the Israeli government preferred to pretend they did not exist -- notably the frightening existence of Hamas.

Since the return of Olmert and Abbas from Annapolis to the Middle East, it has been even more evident that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are not a really serious diplomatic process.

"Hamas was the elephant in Annapolis that nobody wanted to talk about," wrote commentator Herb Keinon. "But it has become impossible to ignore that the size and the strength of Hamas cast a shadow over everything else."

For any diplomatic process to have theoretical chances for success, both sides must be in a position to compromise. It has become an established fact that Abbas, thanks to Hamas, is utterly unable to compromise on any significant issue. At the same time, any clear position Olmert would make on many sensitive issues like Jerusalem is certain to put a quick end to the present government.

Thus, 2008 will be marked by a lack of decisions until Hamas will have been successfully neutralized and the political situation in Israel -- including various corruption charges and the reaction to the Winograd Report -- will become clearer.

Israel's political situation, of course, is anything but clear. Olmert's continued unpopularity is unquestionably a sign of a huge crisis of confidence promoted by numerous corruption scandals, as well as the last Lebanon War.

Despite difficulties to understand some of the decisions made by Olmert, fairness requires the mentioning that Olmert personally is a mensch. As mayor of Jerusalem, his then first assistant Shmuel Meir died under mysterious circumstances in a car accident.

Thanks to Olmert's interventions with friends abroad, generous financial help was secured for the widow and her seven children. Up to this day, Olmert tries to visit with the Meir family every Friday and takes part in every child's birthday party.

His wife, Alisa, a gifted artist, is known for her hospitality, which is not at all limited to those that could be of political usefulness. But Olmert's private acts of kindness have had no bearing on his dismal political outlook.

The majority of Israelis wish for new elections as a necessary self-cleansing process. Olmert, however, considered by many as subject to recall, is eager to emerge from the mess as a potential apostle for peace.

He doesn't believe in the resignation of the Labor Party from the government, especially since Ehud Barak does not seem strong enough to compete successfully against his opponent from the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was so instrumental in improving the Israeli economy and enabling a higher standard of living with no high inflation and increasing tourism.

But Netanyahu's biggest problem is that he cannot expect general elections any time soon. Too many members of the Knesset stubbornly stick to their seats, although they disapprove of the politics of the government.

The Palestinian leadership situation is even more problematic.

The last time I met former President Bill Clinton was at the German Media Award in Baden-Baden. Once again, the charming politician proved to be surprisingly honest. While I was praising him for his great presidency, I also expressed my disappointment for him having treated the late Yasser Arafat as a diplomat, despite the fact that he was always and remained forever a terrorist.

Clinton spontaneously agreed: "I greatly misjudged him. and I realized it too late. Had I offered Arafat 100 percent of the State of Israel, he would have demanded stubbornly 120 percent -- more than there is."

Arafat, father of 40 years of Palestinian terror and the pioneer for worldwide Islamic terror, had founded a corrupt regime of criminals who never cared about improving the conditions of the Palestinians. His successor, Abbas, is being acknowledged in the West as a man of peace and moderation. However, the fact is that Abbas has proven again and again that he is suffering from catastrophic indecisiveness and inability to control the different factions of Fatah.

"Throwing money at Fatah will not replace its missing backbone," said Mortimer Zuckerman, U.S. News and World Report's editor in chief.

The economic situation in the Palestinian territories is neither a reflection of positive initiatives on behalf of Abbas nor a decline in corruption.

On Palestinian TV, children continue to be indoctrinated to sacrifice their lives for Allah; the preaching of hatred against Israel in Palestinian schoolbooks, with the ultimate goal of destroying Israel as religious duty, continues and exemplifies that no significant peace efforts can be expected, unless the climate of hatred disappears. Abbas, however, has shown in his uncompromising attitude with contentious issues like borders, the status of Jerusalem and the right of return of refugees, that no serious, true initiatives for peace can be expected.

Israel started abolishing checkpoints to help Abbas with more room to maneuver within the Palestinian Authority, despite strong protest from the military. Israel supplies Abbas with weapons, knowing very well that in the past, Palestinians have used these weapons against Israel. To finish off the craziness, word spread out of Ramallah that Abbas' Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade will be integrated into the Palestinian police force (the brigade, which definitely promotes terrorism, has killed more Israelis than Hamas.).

As a gesture of good will, Israel released many hundreds of prisoners, instead of trading them for kidnapped Israelis. Remember: 30 fatal terrorist attacks have been carried out by terrorists who had been released from Israeli prisons. One would expect no further concessions from the Israeli government, unless an actual counteroffer related to truly fighting terrorism was presented. Abbas turned out to be a president without real power, who is desperately trying to hold on to power. Obviously, he only cares about ending the fights with Hamas and bringing this terror organization back to being his little partner.

Within Abbas' strategy lurks a confusing double standard, which is what Palestinian political groups have used for so long to conceal their true ambition, namely the complete elimination of the State of Israel.

"Sooner or later we all come to realize that one cannot escape reality," concluded Moshe Arens, Israel's former minister of defense. "The peace process can only start thriving after a significant defeat of Palestinian terrorism."

Despite public discussions on the influence of the "Israeli lobby" on American politics, support for Israel in Congress and the Senate remains strong. The United States granted military support in the form of $30 billion over the next 10 years -- an increase of 25 percent.

Iran destabilizes the region by supporting militant Islamic organizations, such as the Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. The United States has a lasting interest in securing Israel's safety.

That security remains threatened on two fronts. The most obvious is Iran, whose nuclear ambitions pose an existential threat to Israel. But the source of almost daily terrorism is, alas, in territory Israel handed back to the Palestinians.

For the first time in 10 years in an Islamic country, we have witnessed an assumption of power by an Islamic group. Today, Gaza is not being run by a conventional political party but by a revolutionary Islamic terrorist organization -- Hamas. Gaza is now a center of terrorism and an Islamic emirate.

Had Israel given into pressure to create a road for trucks and connecting Gaza to the West Bank, the West Bank today would be in terrible danger. The grenades and Qassam rockets being fired today from Gaza into Israel are, according to Israeli military sources, proof of the establishment by Hamas of an army with infantry and an antitank defense division.

Israel's withdrawal from Gush Katif was meant to show that Israel is not only willing to give up Jewish settlements but, indeed, ready to return territories to the Palestinians in return for a peace treaty. Unfortunately, it has become shockingly clear in the last year that Palestinians have no intention whatsoever to recognize Israel and its existence. Israel has left the flourishing gardens and farmland of Gush Katif, a former desert, to the Palestinians, who managed to transform it into a base for terrorism.

The essence of the problem is the fact that for Palestinians, the word "occupation" is not only used in reference to the in 1967 conquered territories but to Israel as a whole. We tend to forget that the Palestinian Liberation Organization was founded before the Six-Day War by the Palestinians for the purpose of liberating Jaffa and Haifa.

Territorial concessions from Israel would only help the rising Islamists to increase leverage and confirm their assumption that Israel can be defeated militarily. The main conflict in the Mideast is not territorial but ideological. An ideology cannot be defeated by concessions.

There is no concrete hope for peace in the Middle East at this time. So what's the purpose of all the diplomatic efforts, Annapolis, the handshakes, the promises and hopes? "The essential [thing] lies in the dynamic of life that detests any vacuum," concluded Tommy Lapid, the former minister of justice.

Yes, Israel needs to hold talks, needs to go to meetings and explain, be hopeful and make predictions and promises. All this is nice and good for as long as we understand that this is foremost a game of illusions.

Anyone interested in history and geography knows of countries that don't live in peace with their neighbors, but whose citizens nevertheless manage to live normal lives. This seems to be Israel's destiny for 2008.

Arthur Cohn is an international film producer whose films include "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis," "Central Station" and "One Day in September."

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