Well, here we are. A new year begins at midnight, and for the Middle East, 2010 will be a year of negotiations. Peace envoys are warming up at the starting line, document writers are polishing draft agreements for the envoys, advisers are coming up with their own phraseology, pundits are piling up verbiage, photographers are aiming their cameras, and diplomats are packing their bags and sharpening their tongues. George Mitchell will be here soon, Benjamin Netanyahu has already been to Cairo, Mahmoud Abbas is on his way. In the end there will be a summit. In Washington they'll be elated, in Europe they'll be exhilarated, the settlers will fulminate and the leftists will somnambulate. Yet another scene in the theater of the absurd, another act in the endless grotesque burlesque. Here we are again: The season of negotiations is upon us, negotiations that amount to nothing.
Already the archives are bursting at the seams with plans and initiatives, outlines and parameters, all already thick with dust. Never before has there been so dangerous and so protracted a conflict with so many wars and so many peace plans. From the first Rogers Plan of December 1969 to the second and third Rogers plans and up to the present, it's been a horrifyingly dreary tale of sterile diplomacy, a 40-year journey to nowhere.
Everything has already been written and all the plans are amazingly similar, which isn't surprising. If you want peace, just go to one of the drawers and randomly pluck out any of the plans, it really doesn't matter which, and start implementing it. And if you want a "peace process," you're invited to join the coming festivities, including the killer hangover.
One could, for example, pull the original Rogers Plan out of the mothballs. William Rogers himself has been dead for years, but everything is right there in his plan: withdrawal to the 1967 borders, recognition, sovereignty, peace. It was Israel that rejected it. Forty years on, and we are wallowing in the exact same spot. You want to be a little more up-to-date? Take Bill Clinton's plan - everything's there too. So why start off yet again on another campaign of tortuous language? Why do all the Uzi Arads and George Mitchells have to wear themselves out?
Benjamin Netanyahu has already undergone his "historic turnabout," he's reportedly ready to discuss, certainly discuss, the '67 borders, with territory swaps and security arrangements. Even the timetable has already been set - two years, of course it's two years, it's always two years, two years more. At the end, Israel's ultimate triumph will be declared: There's no partner. Again we'll hear that the Palestinian president is "a chicken with no feathers" or that the Palestinian leaders are "a gang of terrorists," and again we'll hear that there's no one to talk to.
There is no Palestinian partner, because there is no Israeli partner who is ready to take action. The day that Israel starts acting, together with the Palestinians, the partner will be there. Even Nelson Mandela wasn't the Mandela we know until he was freed from prison and South Africa was placed in his hands. He too refused to give up armed resistance for decades, but when he was given a true opportunity, he followed a path of peace. The key was in the hands of F.W. de Clerk, not those of Mandela. Israel, too, has that key. Now that it is no longer possible to halt everything because of terrorism, since there is almost none, Israel has lost one of its best weapons. When there is terrorism, one cannot act, and when there is no terrorism, there's no reason to act. But don't worry, it will be back, if nothing happens. The experience of the disengagement won't help either, because the continued imprisonment of the Gazans means that nothing has changed in their lives.
The last person to touch the dream was Ehud Olmert. Countless "excellent" meetings with Abbas, photo ops and bold speeches in abundance. Almost courage, nearly accord, a "shelf agreement" any minute now. Meanwhile, at the edge of the shelf are two lost wars and more settlement construction. All the fine words were rendered worthless by the action on the ground. Because this is the supreme test: It doesn't matter what the Israelis say, it matters what they do.
The time for words is over. Stop negotiating, start doing. Lifting the blockade on Gaza and declaring a perpetual freeze on building in the settlements would do more than a thousand formulations. Someone who wants two states doesn't build even one more balcony. This is the litmus test of Israel's true intentions. Without taking these steps, everything else is a waste of time, the time of the negotiators and of all of us. Does Netanyahu mean to take any of these steps? That is very doubtful, troublingly so.
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