This week Defense Minister Ehud Barak promised that "when the time comes," Hamas will pay for its aggression; two years ago, Prime Minister-elect Ehud Olmert promised that Israel will be a country that is "fun to live in"; during the Second Lebanon War, the government promised a "strong home front"; during last week's interviews granted on the eve of the holiday, Olmert promised that "Iran will never go nuclear"; the diplomatic and security effort this government is focused on these days is meant to secure a tahdiyeh (lull) in the South during the coming month, so that the Independence Day celebrations, and especially the visit by U.S. President George W. Bush, will not be marred; and the epitome of this method - Israel is conducting negotiations with the Palestinian Authority to reach a "shelf agreement," which it has no intention to implement.
The modus operandi selected by Olmert to conduct state affairs is drawn from the world of entertainment and anchored in the dominant media culture: He simulates reality and paints virtual solutions to real problems.
The country is a reality game. The real problems are not solved, they are "treated": They are being worked on, they are being talked about, a dialogue is created around them. This way the government creates a false image of activity that gives the impression that it is seriously working to further the state's affairs. In practice it only produces "processes" that are deceptive and distorted.
The shelf agreement is a clear example, highlighting the phenomenon: From the onset, neither the government nor the prime minister believed in the validity of the document they are negotiating with the Palestinian Authority. Their effort in this diplomatic process is purely formal - a sort of blueprint from which, at an unknown future date, a practical settlement will be derived and which will apply to the two sides.
The agreement is meant to resolve all the disputes between Israel and the Palestinians, including the question of borders, control over Jerusalem, the right of return and issues of security. This is an enormous and necessary challenge - so long as they are serious about implementing it.
However, the current atmosphere, at least on the Israeli side, is one of an intellectual exercise, something like, "let's see if we are able to reach understandings." The point of departure of the country's leadership is that the document now being discussed has no chance of being implemented, even if an agreement is formulated. The main reason for this is the weakness of the government of Mahmoud Abbas, and the dominance of Hamas in the Palestinian street.
Less-biased observers than the prime minister and his colleagues will argue that there is also a bone stuck in Israel's throat that is preventing it from swallowing the compromises necessary for reaching an agreement, not to mention implementing it - but Olmert is experienced in dousing the right-wing positions of Shas.
The government is now conducting a fake diplomatic process: It recognizes that it has no real chance of having practical results, except a formula on paper, in the best-case scenario. It perpetuates it because it is regarded as the lesser of two evils: Instead of raising its hands and surrendering on dialogue with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, it is best to pretend and give the impression of dialogue.
The Israeli leaders tell themselves: If it does not work - it will not harm. Meanwhile, they are delaying the end, putting off the moment of truth, and are gaining another week, another month in power without direct confrontation with Abbas and his officials.
The Palestinians have their own reason for playing the game by these rules. To himself and the public, Olmert explains that the document being discussed, if an agreement is reached on it, will burn into the consciousness of the world the principle of two countries, and will thus push back the growing trend in the international community to establish a single, binational state over the entire territory.
This, of course, is a highly worthy purpose, and it is at the base of the view of many in Israel who aspire for a withdrawal from the territories to ensure the Zionist character of the state, but which requires, if it is to be achieved, practical willingness to take action and not make do with aiming for agreed-on formulas.
In other words, the key to securing Israel as a national home for the Jewish people is in the ability of its leadership to find the courage to confront the camp that refuses to surrender Judea and Samaria. Only after passing this test will the time come for an agreement with the Palestinians.
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