Like the strong rains that have disrupted daily life in Britain in recent days, the barrage of gestures and peace offerings the Olmert government is heaping upon the government of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayad makes one ponder the irony of the timing of the things that are happening. But, while the downpour in Britain is a natural phenomenon, the timing of Israel's diplomatic maneuvering is man-made and worth some analysis. Is Israel not closing the stable door after the horses have bolted?
Israel has managed to accede to various wishes of the Palestinian leadership - freeing prisoners, releasing frozen funds, allowing the importation of arms, ending the pursuit of nearly 200 fugitive militants in the West Bank, holding senior-level political meetings and making unprecedented peace proposals. In addition, the Olmert government has supported international diplomatic efforts aimed at boosting the prestige of Abbas and Fayad, and at giving the Palestinian public the sense that its national problem now enjoys the attention of the entire world, and that it may soon also experience an amelioration of its daily hardships.
As if this were not enough, the authorized spokespeople of the government in Jerusalem (Ehud Olmert, Haim Ramon, Tzipi Livni) have signaled their willingness to discuss with the Palestinian leadership issues that it previously has avoided, such as the withdrawal of Israel Defense Forces troops from West Bank cities and an agreement on the principles of a final status agreement. Ramon even drafted a peace map that certainly looks very similar to the one Ehud Barak lay on Yasser Arafat's table at the Camp David summit, in July 2000.
The concessions that Israel is dumping en masse on the Palestinian Authority, however welcome and positive they may be, make one wonder why they have been so long in coming. After all, Abbas began his career in power under Arafat and then, when he replaced him as chairman, the reception he received in the corridors of Israeli power were at best insulting: He was described as "a featherless chick." Suddenly, this past summer, he became the darling of the Israeli leadership, who are going out of their way to satisfy him.
The meaning of the government's enthusiasm is clear: Abbas and Fayad have changed their ways - and that is why Israel is repaying them so nicely. They got rid of the gunmen on the streets and revoked the legitimacy of the Ismail Haniyeh government. They are talking about peace and have relinquished the use of "resistance" in their official documents. They are exhibiting a willingness to assert their control over the West Bank in practice, and are trying to drive Hamas from the Gaza Strip. In short, the chicks have feathers and therefore, they deserve some birdseed.
However, this interpretation relies on the deterministic assumption that the reality in the Strip and in the West Bank in July 2007 has been imposed by some supreme power, and that Israel was unable to have an effect on it. It is impossible not to question whether being more responsive to the expectations of Abbas in the past (three or four years ago) would have saved the Israeli leadership the need to rush in panic now in an effort to bolster his standing. After all, the requests to which the Israeli government is now acceding are the same as those the Palestinian leader made in the past.
This is not a pointless discussion. It touches on the question of whether Israel has missed the boat or, on the other hand, if it is taking action in the knowledge that what it is doing now is merely for the sake of show, since there is no power that can alter the situation that has emerged in the PA. In other words, isn't it possible that Olmert believes that Abbas and Fayad will not manage to hold on in Ramallah, and certainly not return to the presidential offices in Ramallah, and that all the prime minister's maneuvers and statements at present are merely an effort to establish his alibi?
On the other hand, if Olmert and his colleagues in power genuinely believe it is possible to bolster the Palestinian leadership - do they not prove by this that Israel always needs tomorrow's enemy in order to compromise with today's foe? The dovish slogan "Peace is made with enemies," is interpreted by the Israeli leadership in its own way: "Peace is made - once new enemies emerge." Only when Israel has new enemies is it willing to reach an understanding with its previous ones.
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