Minister Uzi Landau said three days ago on TV that Abu Mazen's appointment as Palestinian prime minister was no reason to rejoice. With a smile of one who has seen all, Landau advised not to hope for any revolution, mentioned Abu Mazen's take on the Holocaust and - quoting a famous Shalom Hanoch song - concluded: "The messiah is not coming, he's not calling either."
Landau is not the only government minister to sulk at the quiet revolution in the Palestinian leadership: Limor Livnat and the representatives of the National Religious Party and National Union shared his sentiment. While the prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister welcomed Abu Mazen as PA prime minister, albeit with some reservations, the extreme right-wing members of the cabinet called on the public not to delude themselves, stressing that Abu Mazen has always been a full partner on Arafat's road and predicting the relations between Israel and the Palestinians would not change.
Prophecies are often self-fulfilling. Should the extreme right-wing bloc in the government stick to its evaluation of Abu Mazen's upgrading in the Palestinian leadership, it will probably also take action to make sure that this forecast comes true.
The reaction of the prime minister and his senior ministers also merits a closer look: while caution is due, their reserved remarks seem too much like lip service. Abu Mazen's election brings the government closer to the target it has set, and represents the chance of a dramatic change in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. His appointment therefore deserves slightly more enthusiasm on the part of the Israeli public and its leaders; as the French saying goes, the intonation makes all the difference.
For years, Israel has been arguing that Arafat's attitude was the main stumbling block en route to an arrangement with the Palestinians. Abu Mazen's election significantly detracts from Arafat's status. His election is, in fact, the fruit that Ariel Sharon can reap as the result of his adamant response to Palestinian terror and of his success in convincing President Bush to see Arafat as another link in the "axis of evil" (greatly because of September 11). The prime minister could leverage this success to launch visionary diplomatic moves, but instead Israel's official comments about these developments are excessively reserved and even stingy. Moreover, they give rise to concerns that Israel is not too happy that Arafat is being pushed to the sidelines (at least partially, for the time being); Israel seems to be preparing the ground for disappointment. However, Abu Mazen's success or failure depends on Israel, too.
Abu Mazen was elected after a long, complicated move, which combined internal Palestinian initiative and international influence. Israel was also involved. Army sources perceive Abu Mazen's election to be a far-reaching event that marks the imminent conclusion of the (current) round of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and indicates the rise of the nonviolent school of thought among Palestinian leaders.
Why can't the army, which bears responsibility for convincing the political ranks that Arafat is the main obstacle in resolving the conflict, persuade the prime minister and his ministers to change their attitude toward the Ramallah reshuffle? Why can't the army influence Uzi Landau and his like to give this new turn of events a chance?
From a Palestinian perspective it seems that Ariel Sharon, Shaul Mofaz and Uzi Landau are not interested in peace at all, and that all they want is to perpetuate the occupation, no matter who is in charge on the Palestinian side. To prove that Israel is innocent of any such malicious intent, the tone of the government's official stance must be altered and a different approach to the changes in the Palestinian leadership should be disseminated.
Israel's government must make the necessary gestures to enable the Palestinian move to succeed and - just as importantly - to convince Israelis that it will not miss this opportunity. The government is better off looking gullible than seeming like a warmonger.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now