I wouldn't want to be in the shoes of Arafat or Netanyahu this week. They watched the ceremonies in Sharm el-Sheikh and Aqaba, they saw the handshakes, the smiles, the backslapping with President Bush - and I bet they turned green with envy. The two of them - one who stayed home willingly, and one who stayed in the Muqata unwillingly - were like the two old grouches from the Muppet Show.
In one respect, at least, Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas already have something in common: Both want to reach an agreement but both are looking at trouble from close quarters at home.
The truth of the matter is that the Oslo Accords, in terms of the dream and the goal, set an irreversible process in motion. It's no accident that all the candidates for prime minister went to the polls on a peace ticket. It's no accident that despite the intifada, despite terror, the desire for peace in this country has not gone up in smoke.
We now have the most right-wing government this country has ever had, plus a right-wing prime minister. But sitting in this Knesset is a majority that supports an agreement and the verbal metamorphosis of Ariel Sharon, who has chosen the route ending in a Palestinian state. The two peoples are sick and tired of the mutual bloodshed, and have learned the hard way that the only solution is a political solution.
Israel is now at a juncture where three streams converge to form a mighty waterfall: the U.S. president, who is demanding an agreement so he can continue his messianic fight against the forces of evil; the elimination of the strategic threat we've been living under, now that Iraq has been beaten, and Syria and Iran have been warned; and of course, Israel's failing economy in the wake of a war that has made us understand that "land for peace" means "land for money, investors, tourism and a return to the good life."
Today happens to be the 36th anniversary of the Six-Day War - Israel's greatest military triumph. Anyone who remembers those glorious days when we walked around on cloud nine can only wonder how we managed to fall so far. How we took the bargaining chips we won, which were supposed to be used one day to reach an agreement with the Arabs, and went on a settlement spree that has turned us into the prisoners of a handful of settlers, and occupiers in the eyes of the world.
But the biggest bargaining chip from that war is still in our pocket: international recognition of the 1967 borders. Until then, the Arabs demanded withdrawal to the borders of 1948 in the best of cases. In the worst of cases, they wanted the Jews to pack up and go back where they came from. A return to the 1967 borders in exchange for a peace agreement and normalization will only make us more secure. Don't forget: Our finest war was fought from there - from the "Auschwitz borders," as Abba Eban called them.
Bush's involvement is the best thing that ever happened to us. On a high from his victory in Iraq, bursting with messianic fervor to end global terror, only he can get the Arab nations to support normalization in our neighborhood. But with all his determination, no one knows for sure if he's got a master plan that will show him how to do it.
Taking down a few outposts and settlements won't be a problem for Sharon. Since coming to power, 62 new ones have been rubber-stamped by him, contrary to the basic policies outlined by his administration. Releasing a few hundred prisoners won't be a problem either, with 5,000 of them now sitting in our jails. But the goal of establishing a Palestinian state by 2005 - now that's a little trickier.
We may have to go back to Kissinger's interim step diplomacy. Gaza first, for instance: a compact trouble spot where Abu Mazen's government can clean out the terrorists, rehabilitate institutions and security forces, start building a deep-water port and get 70,000 laborers working again.
Why is that good? Because it can serve as a model for the West Bank. Because it will be easier for Sharon to evacuate the 6,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip and resettle them in Israel. Because it will be less painful for Sharon and more politically worthwhile for the Palestinians. Because it's something that has a beginning and an end: the beginning of the end of occupation, in line with Sharon's spanking new vision.
There are many things that haven't been said and haven't been worked out in the two summits this week. Plenty of issues have been skirted, and are bound to pop up as obstacles along the way. One ceremony more, one ceremony less - it makes no difference. The real test lies in the determination of leaders on both sides to create a situation which offers no hope to crazies and extremists.
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