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Back in the euphoric days of the Oslo Accords, Shimon Peres used to say that you can make omelets from eggs, but not eggs from omelets. What he meant was that the situation that had developed was irreversible. History is striding along the path of reconciliation and Palestinian independence, and there is no turning back. At the time, his aides marketed the interim agreement (Oslo B), in which Israel withdrew from the West Bank cities, as "the end of occupation." They explained that 98 percent of residents of the territories would be under Palestinian rule, and that Israel would not be intervening in their lives.

Looking back in time from the vantage point of 2004, the words sound like so much arrogant propaganda, empty of any real substance. The Oslo accords have turned into bleeding pulp of terror, hatred and occupation, and independent Palestine seems far distant. But Peres is not the only one who made a mistake. For more than a decade, firm diplomatic facts were seemingly laid down, on the way to an end of the conflict between Israel and the Arabs.

The Israeli media continually reported on the sacred cows that were slaughtered, about turnarounds and upheavals. Only the reality refused to march along the course plotted by the politicians and commentators, proving that in the Middle East it is nevertheless possible to make eggs from omelets.

It began with the recognition of the PLO and the Yitzhak Rabin-Yasser Arafat handshake in 1993, and continued with the 1996 election, when Benjamin Netanyahu accepted the Oslo process. At the time, they said that the Likud had given up its ideology, that the awful political stalemate had been broken.

Afterward came Ehud Barak, who in his abortive route to a permanent settlement offered to divide Jerusalem. True, he achieved war, not peace, but the pundits explained that this was it, that the last taboo had been shattered, and that from now on everything was known, that it was clear what the future treaty would look like. Ariel Sharon tried the "Palestinian state" and after that the "disengagement from Gaza," and received enthusiastic reviews, which praised the "historic turnaround of the father of the settlements," and failed the political test in his own party.

All of these leaders also suffered from seasonal "returning the Golan to Syria" attacks. But nothing came of all the nice plans and high-flown talk. Facts were indeed created on the ground, but reverse facts: the settlements grew and were reinforced by the outposts, the Palestinians waged war and were punished by occupation of their cities and imprisonment of their leaders, and the separation fence is partitioning the land. The talk has shifted to the left, the reality to the right, and the gap between them has only grown wider.

The serial failures resemble one another in their political dynamics: a prime minister elected on a "centrist" platform suddenly breaks to the left, renounces his previous positions and suffers from the breakdown of his partisan or coalition source of support. This happened to Rabin, to Netanyahu, to Barak and to Sharon. The only step that ended in success and also at the time enjoyed public support - the withdrawal from South Lebanon - was also the only instance in which the prime minister kept his pre-election promise without putting it to a political test.

The diplomatic process fell victim to jurisdictional skirmishing between the branches of government. The prime ministers strove to expand their authorities and independence through claims that they know what is good for the people, that they bear the responsibility, that only they are intimate with the White House. They appealed to the public through interviews, and were intoxicated by the triumphant opinion polls, until they came up against the checks and balances imposed on them by the Knesset and the parties, which always presented a rightist line and demanded that the prime ministers stick to their previous positions. To date, this political wall has been found to be impassable. Sharon tripped himself up with the Likud referendum, and tragically discovered that political threats can sometimes be made, but it is not always worthwhile putting them to the test.