We have a new "traitor." Please welcome Haim Ramon. How horrible: Ramon thinks the Palestinians shouldn't negotiate with Benjamin Netanyahu. He understands, like many others, that these negotiations have no chance, no hope. He may even think they can do damage. And he said so to a Palestinian friend in a private conversation. What's the matter? If Ramon would have written it in a newspaper article, or said it in an interview, that would have been OK? So what's the problem with whispering it in the ear of Saeb Erekat?
The only problem is that Ramon didn't whisper it quietly enough. The walls have ears at the American Colony Hotel. Once again Ramon has gotten into trouble with wiretaps, and the rest is history - or actually hysteria.
Private conversations are private conversations, and what is whispered in them is nobody's business. Eavesdroppers and tattlers are less commendable than the whisperers. It can only be hoped that the Shin Bet security service was not involved in the eavesdropping and especially in the leaking. That is why the commotion that erupted over the weekend is another storm in a teacup, which is again intended to obscure the real issue.
And the real issue, as many of Ramon's critics, especially the loudmouths from his party, know full well, is that Ramon was right: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas must not join the masquerade known as direct negotiations with the current prime minister. Not only will it not advance anything, it could cause harm to Abbas, the Palestinians, to peace and also to Israel. Another failure in the longest and most futile peace process in history, as we have learned, could lead to another round of bloodshed. That is why the distance between Ramon's words and treason is precisely the distance between Netanyahu and the chance for peace. The real traitor is the prime minister, who is trying to con everyone: the Israelis, the Palestinians and the Americans.
A prime minister who says, as published in Haaretz, that a continued freeze on building in the settlements "is politically impossible" because it will lead to the breakup of his coalition government, is a prime minister who is derelict in his duty. Didn't Netanyahu commit in his Bar-Ilan University speech to two states? If he admits that he can't get his government to back a move so minuscule, so preliminary, so self-evident as a building freeze, as a step to carrying out his commitment, why do we need his government? It would be better if it fell. If he still stays in office, he is betraying his mission and his commitment.
No, Abbas must not lend a hand to this illusion. The issue is not only his shaky position, which would be further undermined if he joins the talks - a development that would run counter to Israel's interest. The issue is also not just another round of nothing, more time wasted on nothing. The issue is cooperation with an Israeli diversion tactic which is meant to lull the entire world.
Netanyahu and his government, most of whose members don't believe even for a minute in the chances of the peace process - and some have said so explicitly - want to deceive everyone and gain time and quiet so they can bolster the settlements even more. How else can the opposition to extending the freeze be interpreted? Why build if you intend to evacuate? And why do you think Netanyahu is so eager to hold direct talks, courting Abbas with sweet-talk, if not to please the Americans? If there are negotiations, there won't be international pressure. Quiet, we're in discussions, settlement can go on uninterrupted. That is why futile negotiations are dangerous negotiations.
Even the handful of real peace seekers in Israel must not support such a process. Under the cover of such talks the chances for peace will grow even dimmer. And this can and should be said everywhere: in the newspaper, in the party, and it should be whispered in every attentive ear.
But in the new McCarthyist, witch-hunting Israel, that is forbidden. Instead of holding Netanyahu's deceit up to shame, the whisperer is shamed. Instead of being impressed by the fact that there are still Israeli politicians who take the trouble to maintain ties with the Palestinian leadership, they are furiously set upon, as if Ramon disclosed state secrets to an enemy who is not an enemy. And instead of the reason for the scandal being the time that is lost, the focus is on a conversation between friends in an East Jerusalem hotel.
So here, not in a whisper and not in a hotel, I humbly add my voice to Ramon's: Abbas, don't go there.
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