Peace may be a dream - but it is not our dream. The time has come to recognize the fact that Israel uses the rhetoric of peace, but does very little on the practical level toward achieving it. Anyone still clinging to the axiom that "we'll leave no stone unturned" needs to take a good look in the mirror. Is Israel truly laboring with determination and persistence to reach peace?

The announcement by both the United States and Israel that the efforts to renew direct negotiations failed, less than six months after being launched in Washington, is direct proof that Israel is not doing so. This country deserves most of the blame: History will not forgive those who considered the issue of extending the construction moratorium in the settlements, even for three months, more important than continuing the talks and reaching a diplomatic solution.

One could, of course, blame U.S. President Barack Obama on the grounds that he did not lean hard enough on the two sides, particularly Israel, and that he did not sufficiently exercise the economic and political leverage at his disposal to "persuade" them of the benefits of continuing the talks. But history teaches that no peace, or even a framework for negotiations, has ever succeeded unless the warring parties were actually ready for genuine dialogue.

The peace with Egypt and with Jordan, the Oslo Accords and the talks over the years with Syria and other parties took place and moved forward based on the interests of the adversaries themselves, with the superpowers generally playing the role of conciliator and mediator. Incentives offered by the mediator were effective only when the parties themselves were willing to reach an agreement.

Thus it is the rival sides who bear the blame, but not equally. There is no doubt that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet are largely responsible for the latest failure. The prime minister is a hard nut to crack: In his kickoff speech to the talks, delivered in Washington in September, Netanyahu twice repeated the following phrase: "History has given us a rare opportunity to end the conflict between our peoples." He also used the word "peace" 14 times during that address. While it is clear that politicians use rhetoric to promote their agendas, these measures and this language create a dynamic of expectations that, when not met, lead to frustration and eventually to a breakdown.

To a great extent, Netanyahu and his cabinet are representative of Israeli society today. Public opinion polls point to increasing extremism, bordering on racism, in Jews' opinion of Arabs, as well as to alienation and a distrust of the other side's goals and intentions. Given these circumstances, it's no wonder there is no public pressure on the government to advance the peace process and that there was no significant public response to the dramatic announcement that the talks had been suspended.

When it comes to peace, Israel's position today is similar to its position after the wars of 1948 and of 1967: The potential for negotiations was there, but the cost was considered too high. Now, too, maintaining the status quo appears to be preferable to making changes that Israelis perceive as threatening, even if they do not necessarily pose a genuine danger.

In the past decade, Israel has faced a number of Arab initiatives: the Arab League peace plan, Syrian offers to negotiate, Palestinian willingness to move forward and even moderate declarations from Hamas. Successive Israeli governments responded to all of them with restraint and icy indifference (with the exception of the waning days of Ehud Olmert's term as prime minister ).

Israel's listless response to these proposals cannot be understood as coincidental or circumstantial; it is a pattern of behavior. And Israel has never proffered its own initiative that would indicate a desire for peace. This leads us to the unhappy conclusion that Israel - both its government and its people - are not really interested in peace; at most, they make the sounds of peace, but that is not enough.

 

The writer is a professor in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.