Haughty answer to Pakistan
Israel's government would rather adopt the stance of a frightened man being assaulted by mediators than that of a statesman and initiator.
The launching of Qassam rockets at communities in southern Israel, the assassination of Palestinian operatives in the territories by Israel, and the declaration by Hamas' military wing that "the lull has ended" amply demonstrate the fragility of the current quiet. Israel's response can be anticipated: The Israel Defense Forces will certainly attack targets chosen in advance and continue to try to assassinate wanted men. These steps could quickly escalate into a large-scale campaign.
This response worked as long as Israel had succeeded in convincing everyone that it had no partner for negotiations. But it seems that this slogan can no longer be accepted: Not only has the Saudi initiative offered itself as a diplomatic channel, but the broader Muslim world is also ready to mobilize behind such a process.
Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan - one of the most influential Muslim countries in the world, a historic ally of the United States and a close ally of Saudi Arabia - is seeking to advance a diplomatic initiative for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The gist of his initiative, which has been coordinated with the leaders of Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia - other non-Arab Muslim states - expands the scope of the Arab initiative: diplomatic relations and normalization in exchange for a solution to the conflict.
Musharraf is thus offering Israel a powerful incentive, under which not only 350 million Arabs, but some 1.25 billion Muslims, would cease to view Israel, at least officially, as an enemy that ought to be annihilated.
This is the slow shift for which Israel has hoped ever since its founding. But it seems that Israel's government, and particularly the man who heads it, would rather adopt the stance of a frightened man being assaulted by mediators than that of a statesman and initiator. Indeed, in response to Musharraf's initiative, Ehud Olmert chose to mislead and evade. In an interview with Army Radio, he explained: "We prefer and believe that direct negotiations between us and the Palestinians are the right thing, and incidentally, these are also taking place."
That was the first lie, which prepared the road for the second lie: that "we don't need someone to come from afar in order to set up a meeting between me and Abu Mazen," referring to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. "It's a waste of effort for anyone to invest, from near or far." The goal of Musharraf's mediation is not to set up a meeting with Abbas - though even for this, Olmert needed pressure from "someone from afar" in Washington - but to propose a comprehensive Muslim-Arab plan. But what is easier than minimizing, and therefore eliminating, the purpose of the Pakistani president's initiative?
Israel and the Palestinians need the services of every possible mediator, from near or far, in order to extricate them from the maelstrom that is dragging them toward a diplomatic and military abyss. Such mediators would replace the language of threats with the language of diplomacy and politics. Musharraf is a leader who, in his own country, is confronting radical Muslim groups that attack him over his pro-American policies and his struggle against schools run by Islamic extremists. And leaders of this nature are essential mediators. His initiative and daring deserve much more than the arrogance with which they were met by the prime minister.