Like the annoying guest who knows it's time to leave only when shown the door, while boasting that for him a nod is as good as a wink, Sharon's cabinet realizes every time too late that its positions vis-a-vis the Palestinians were askew. The retroactive insight does not spare the cabinet from making the next mistake.
Once, Ariel Sharon set the Palestinian Authority a condition of 30 days of quiet before beginning discussions of a formal cease-fire (the Tenet plan). Then he lowered the price to seven days. Circumstances proved that the Israeli approach does not bring the desired results and Sharon ordered the IDF to return to West Bank cities, assuming that smashing Yasser Arafat's symbols of power will yield the desired change. Today the defense establishment is grumbling that the ongoing terrorism derives from the collapse of the central government in the Palestinian Authority, warning that soon Israel will have to assume responsibility for managing the territories again.
Today Sharon and his senior ministers are playing with the thought of putting up with the election of Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) for Palestinian prime minister and of reaching an understanding with him on implementing a cease-fire, without a formal agreement. This enlightenment fell on the state's leadership after it failed to read correctly the reality that it strived to create with the election of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).
Four months ago, Sharon's government gave Abu Mazen a list of conditions that he could not meet. With hindsight wisdom, Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon admitted that Israel erred in its approach toward Abu Mazen and was tight-fisted in its confidence-building measures. Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz were angry at Ya'alon's criticism, but hastened to adopt its conclusions, as indicated by the approach they are now forming vis-a-vis Abu Ala.
Now the government in Jerusalem appears to be willing to give up the demand it made of Abu Mazen, to first dismantle the terror infrastructures. It is also talking favorably of the possibility of giving Abu Ala control of all the Palestinian cities he wants, and showing readiness to cease all IDF activity in the territories altogether, including the assassinations and even arrests.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom is considering the grandiose idea of developing joint tourism plans with the PA and establishing a reality which would revert the relations between the parties to the pre-September 2000 era. In fact, the Foreign Ministry is thinking of normalization on the ground without a formal agreement, certainly without a political settlement, which would be able to survive even terrorist attacks.
Israel is not the only one to blame for the continuing armed conflict with the Palestinians. Arafat and the terror organizations play a major part in it, but the government in Jerusalem may not claim its innocence and lay the whole blame for the incessant bloodshed on the other side. The government itself sobers up too late from its mistakes and tries to correct them with new ideas, which are also, sadly, based on fallacy.
The root of evil lies in the approach of the Israeli leadership. It wishes to manage the conflict instead of solving it. This approach leads to tactical measures instead of an effort to change the situation entirely. The new trend - to set up a cease-fire and aspire to normalization in relations - is another stop in the government's delusional, hallucinatory quest. There is no chance that this plan will withstand the force of the processes reality creates. As long as the Palestinian demand to stop the occupation and to achieve independence remains unfulfilled, the patches Israel offers will not be able to provide a feasible solution to the conflict.
The Geneva initiative, a copy of which will reach every Israeli family starting today, offers a real alternative to the government's policy. One should hope it fulfills the role destined for it - to raise a public debate in which the state's citizens will actively take part in deciding on the future of relations with the Palestinians.
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