The declaration of diplomatic war against the Geneva understandings is one of the more stupid undertakings of the Sharon government. Not only is it giving free publicity to Yossi Beilin and political authority to a virtual agreement he worked out with his Palestinian friends, it also exposes the paucity of initiative on the part of the government. Once again, it brings back memories of the days of Yitzhak Shamir when there was a law prohibiting meetings with PLO officials. Ariel Sharon marketed himself as a moderate leader, preaching "painful concessions," but his government is operating according to its right flank: building fences and settlements, along with empty mumblings about a political arrangement sometime in the future.
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom tried to persuade his colleagues that it would be best to ignore the Geneva accords instead of strengthening them with unnecessary attention. To prevent a formal government decision against the document, he compromised on a medium-intensity diplomatic campaign against the understandings. The effort is tainted with hypocrisy. Israeli representatives in the capitals of the world, sent into the battle this week, were ordered to ignore the content of the agreement and to attack the procedure. They have to explain that Beilin and company "were not authorized to conduct negotiations," and that advancing the initiative "will harm the road map" - as if the government is doing anything to help the road map, as it refuses to evacuate outposts and plans to fence in half the West Bank.
Governments that engage in lost wars tend to accuse foreign powers of intervention to excuse their own haplessness. Thus there were the Israeli claims, which past Labor governments also erred in making, that the Palestinian terror was being run from Iran. Now there are new evildoers: the foreign ministers of Switzerland, Belgium and France, who are accused of intervening in Israel's domestic affairs because of their support for the Geneva understandings.
Nobody will say so out loud, but the subtext is clear: The usual suspects of anti-Semitism want to finance Beilin's campaign to topple the Sharon government. In Paris they got the point, and under pressure from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, hastened to deny that they will help finance the project. Brussels also sent a conciliatory message. The Sharon government finally had an achievement it could point to with pride: Beilin will have to find financing elsewhere. Wow.
The unnecessary obsession with the Geneva understandings only makes more evident the government's lack of focus on finding a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, against the background of the breakdown of agreement between the political and military establishments, and the growing recognition of the failure of the campaign against terror. Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon, who promised there would be a psychologically decisive moment in the war that would "put an end to the activities of those elements encouraging and responsible for terror" - meaning Arafat - now attacks the political echelon for its hard line toward the Palestinians. It's hard to believe but the same Ya'alon who led the campaign against Arafat for years and took pride in being the first to spot Arafat's lies, this week was telling reporters that dealing with the personal fate of the chairman was a mistake.
The army is looking for a "strategic exit" from the territories. Under pressure of the mounting snafus (unnecessary killing of civilians in Gaza, the six soldiers killed in Netzarim and Ein Yabrud), Ya'alon is trying to kick responsibility upstairs to the defense minister and sideways, to the Shin Bet, before the chaos breaks out in the territories and the politicians blame the failure in the war on the IDF.
Ahmed Qureia, who only yesterday was being described as Arafat's rag doll, has been turned into the savior and focus of hope by the Israeli establishment. Only yesterday they were saying he isn't committed to the war on terror, and suddenly he is someone to court, to talk to, being counted on to haul Israel out of the mud. It's difficult to believe that is what will happen. Israel is trapped in its refusal to make any concessions or show any flexibility, other than imaginary "abatements" that mostly exist in announcements to the media. As long as that policy goes on, and the initiatives are limited to dealing with Beilin and initiating more construction in the territories, there is no chance for any change.
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