It sometimes seems the term "deja vu" was invented to describe the rituals of the "Middle East peace process," which have been repeating in an endless loop for some years now: the ceremonies, the speeches and the handshakes against some pastoral American backdrop, the somewhat forced bustle and solemnity of the entourages and the media, the hell that erupts immediately afterward in the region that was just discussed in such lovely language. Part of this hell can't hold back and erupts right at the handshake stage: a terrible, hysterical, automatic roar of objection from the rejectionist fronts on opposite sides of the barricades.
Are they really that opposite? You need a magnifying glass to discern any substantive differences between the slogans and arguments of the demonstrations against the Annapolis summit that were held in plazas in Tehran and Gaza, and those that sprang up in Jerusalem. Here, like there, it was the same nearly instinctive, atavistic outburst against the very idea of accord and compromise. Against any rational solution to the conflict, or even its conduct within the bounds of pragmatism.
Discerning types may be able to point out differences between the rejectionist fronts. There is, after all, a difference between a bombing and the construction of an illegal outpost, just as there is a difference between indiscriminate terror and "counterterror" actions that harm civilians. If you try hard enough, you may also be able to find a difference between transfer and calls for genocide. And besides, the most extreme right in Israel always has derisively disavowed any comparison between our mentality and that of our neighbors; the Arabs' enthusiasm for extremist Islam supposedly only goes to show the great gap between them and the advanced Israeli mentality and its secular Western regime.
Or does it? As we worriedly monitor the erosion of secular regimes in the Arab world, we haven't been paying such close attention to the fundamentalist surge that has occurred in Israel. A surge evident in surveys like that conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, which found that the percentage of Israelis who define themselves as secular has decreased over the past 30 years from about 40 percent to just 20 percent. Coincidentally or not, the dramatic acceleration in this process took place in parallel with the years of the intifada.
Other statistics also point to a strengthening of ethnocentric, mystical and fatalistic trends in tandem with despair about the prospects for peace. Is it any wonder then that attempts to revive any sort of peace process are met with scorn, cynicism and indifference? The Palestinian despair has converged with the Israeli despair: Among Israelis, too, rationalism, optimism, moderation and diplomatic creativity no longer enjoy the good reputation they once did.
Which is why the deja vu that surrounded the Annapolis parley had a somewhat melancholy tinge to it - it illustrated the eroding status of both people's elites and pragmatic leaderships. On similar occasions in the past, there was also talk of the gap between the exalted atmosphere surrounding those giving speeches and "what awaits them back home." But this time, the gap seems bigger and scarier than ever.
It gradually becomes apparent that not only are there no differences in the religious-ideological arguments of the rejectionist fronts in the plazas of Gaza, Tehran and Jerusalem, there is also no difference in their level of combativeness and determination to torpedo any compromise. And as the terror attacks from one side and the Rabin assassination and Goldstein massacre on the other have shown, the rejectionist fronts will do anything, anything at all, to pour more fuel on the fire of the conflict.
In the face of this, it is imperative to maintain not only a spark of optimism, but also strength and resolve. In our region it already has been shown that the dogs don't just bark at the caravan; they bite, and then the caravan does not move on for another generation.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now