According to the current conventional wisdom in Israel, the fall of Baghdad opens a singular - if small - window of opportunity to end the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. In light of the experience we have amassed since the establishment of the state, this optimistic approach may be contested, at least until we see genuine movement and not only noncommittal remarks by the prime minister.
What's more, we have already had our fill of corny cliches about "painful concessions," mouthed in the present-day context of continued plunder of Arab lands, complemented by the devoted nurturing of the settlement enterprise. Again Ariel Sharon puts on sheep's clothing to avoid being accused in Washington of placing unnecessary obstacles in an already difficult path.
Nevertheless, not all depends on us: no one knows how the Arab world will react over time to the victory over Iraq. It is reasonable to assume that after the initial shock, feelings of frustration and enmity toward the United States and its allies, mainly Israel, will deepen. The possibility exists, of course, that the defeat will lead to soul-searching in Iraq and among its neighbors, but it is more likely that moderateness will not emerge victorious from the overnight collapse of the Iraqi regime.
As time passes, the sense of degradation will increase, and this will affect the Palestinians, as well. This new defeat will be added to the real or imagined defeats suffered by the Arabs since the start of the 20th century. It is unlikely that the secular elites will have the will or the ability to summon up the energy and courage to stand up to the wave of nationalism and hatred, accompanied by a religious fanaticism that will engulf the Arab street in the longer range.
There is a greater likelihood that the intellectuals and cultural leaders, students, media people and military officers, will form a single rank with the clergymen. In order to undergo a process of modernization and more profound secularization, the Arabs did not need this new downfall.
As for the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, it should be noted that to date no peace treaty has been signed with the Arabs after a military defeat. This was true after the War of Independence and the Six-Day War, and was still true after the occupation of Lebanon. It was the crusade to Lebanon that gave birth to Shi'ite terrorism. Egypt needed the limited and very relative victory of the Yom Kippur War to impel the process of dialogue. Unlike the Americans, we live in this region, and we have no interest in having battered and embittered neighbors.
You don't make peace with a frustrated society that is consumed with hatred for the same Western world of which we are part. For us, it would be best if the Arabs were cured of their inferiority complex and did not have to nurse a new bleeding wound. For a peace accord to have any real hope, it must be a comprehensive peace, based on reconciliation with the peoples around us and not only with moderate dictators like President Mubarak or King Abdullah. Their rule is not eternal, either.
In the short term, it is altogether possible that Israel has an interest in the weakening of a hostile Arab state, but in the long term we have no wish to be seen by the world at large as the Americans' poodle. Even Turkey refused to accept the status of being Washington's sword bearer. Furthermore, we are Middle Easterners, and are closer to Europe than to the United States. The Near East is situated in the backyard of the European Union, and it will not lose interest in the EU. Similarly, the number of Muslims in Europe is constantly rising: already, 10 percent of the population of France is not of European extraction. In the same way that the Jewish vote in America carries much weight, the Muslim and Arab vote in Europe is also important. This reality has to be taken into account.