The speed at which the national mood changes from the heights of euphoria to the depths of despair could make the Guinness Book of Records. But reports of the collapse of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the subject of the road map are premature. This process still has some life left in it, although the hudna is walking a very narrow tightrope, and a frustrated Arafat is rear-ending Abu Mazen and making his life difficult.
Abu Mazen reminds me of Levi Eshkol when Mapai nominated him for prime minister in 1963 instead of David Ben-Gurion, who also suffered from what Military Intelligence chief Aharon Ze'evi Farkash diagnosed this week as "founding father syndrome." Old-timers will surely remember Ben-Gurion's hen-pecking and how Eshkol shouted back at him: "Give me a chance, for God's sake."
When U.S. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer spoke about Abu Mazen's weakness this week, he wasn't talking about his personality, but the pressures he is under. In my opinion, Kurtzer was hinting that President Bush expects Israel to take steps to strengthen him and enable him to stand up to Arafat.
Abu Mazen is an old fox with a better understanding than Arafat of the dangers to the Palestinian people if the strategy of terror continues. But he needs reinforcement from us in order to neutralize the terror organizations and possibly confiscate their weapons. He certainly has no interest in sabotaging the talks.
Ariel Sharon is not interested in sabotaging them either, but he heads a very problematic government. If not for the quick thinking of Tommy Lapid this week, Sharon's proposal to release a few measly prisoners would have been voted down. Which goes to show that with all his standing, there is still a mighty fine line between failure and success.
But looking at the pool of potential leaders across the political spectrum, it is clear that Sharon is the only one who can lead us toward an agreement, at least until the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders, with a majority behind him.
Sharon's campaign manager Reuven Adler, in an interview with the online magazine TheMarker, admits that linking Sharon and peace was a marketing ploy designed to foster the image of a politician at the core of national consensus. But Adler is convinced that Sharon wanted to be the bringer of peace back then, and still does. All the talk about occupation, painful concessions and a Palestinian state came from him - not from his campaign managers or image consultants. Adler believes they sprang from his deep concern that Israelis were losing faith in the state.
Sharon, perhaps for the first time in his life, has come to understand the limits of power. This understanding has trickled down. In closed meetings, the chief of staff sounds optimistic. He believes in the peace process and is advising his subordinates to insert a new diskette. Even Mofaz, an obsessive skeptic, has softened of late. And who scolded Lieberman for saying that he wouldn't mind drowning Palestinian prisoners in the Dead Sea with his own two hands, but Tzachi Hanegbi.
What is missing in this whole process is the generosity and magnanimity that would strengthen Abu Mazen and begin to satisfy some of the Palestinians' expectations. With 6,000 prisoners on our hands - not an easy burden - Israel can afford to be more charitable. It doesn't seem possible that there are no members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad we can let go, if we really want quiet. Maybe we can even start thinking about the political good it would do to release Barghouti.
No one knows better than we do what the return of a prisoner or a kidnapped soldier can do for families and public opinion. More laborers can rejoin the work force; more military checkpoints can be removed; work can begin on dismantling real outposts. Not only because we won (according to Ya'alon), but because we are the strong ones, and we can allow ourselves to be generous.
In his monumental work on World War II, Churchill summed up the moral of that terrible war in 13 words: "In war: Resolution; In defeat: Defiance; In victory: Magnanimity; In peace: Good will." Sharon, who has said that restraint is power, must accustom Israel to the idea that magnanimity is also power.
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