As opposed to the forecast, energetic diplomatic activity - which in the distant past was called the "peace process" - began during the July-August vacation, of all times. Summit meetings, a prisoner release, economic gestures, optimistic declarations and diplomatic plans are all making us feel that something serious is really happening. Because if not, such important people would not be devoting so much time to involvement in the diplomatic process, especially during the summer vacation.
Even Tony Blair is starting to strengthen Palestinian institutions in preparation for establishing a state, but in the meantime he has not yet found a suitable building for his office in Jerusalem "because of the high real estate prices." Haim Ramon is in a hurry: He hasn't even had time to warm up the vice premier's chair, and is already hastening to publicize that he has initiated a new diplomatic plan called "disengagement lite," although he admitted that "it hasn't even gotten off the drawing board."
Many explanations have been offered for the sudden outburst of diplomatic energy: U.S. President George W. Bush's need for a plan to rescue the last vestige of his honor in the region toward the end of his failed term in office; Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's need to present a diplomatic achievement on the eve of the publication of the full Winograd report; the need to heed the demand to "strengthen Abu Mazen" (Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas) that is being heard from all sides; and the profound need to lift the peace camp out of its despair and give it a dose of optimism so it will continue to believe that most Israelis in fact support the two-state solution, and that the Greater Israel ideology is a thing of the past, even in the rightist camp.
The diplomatic process being conducted by Olmert and Bush serves as a peg on which to hang this optimism. The problem is that the reality does not show signs of surrendering to theories and desires. Israeli construction on the West Bank continues at a rapid pace and infrastructure networks are covering the entire area; a regime that is severing and crushing the Palestinian community is taking root; the separation fence is being built; the isolation of the West Bank from the Gaza Strip is taking on the character of a quasi-permanent geopolitical separation; and the chances that Abu Mazen will succeed in establishing a stable government in the West Bank seem distant.
The possibility that the Ramon-Olmert "disengagement lite" will spawn a durable Palestinian state is simply a deception. This gap between theory and reality is leading the Palestinians to believe that the Israelis, whether intentionally or not, "are injecting morphine into their veins to paralyze them until they complete their project," in the words of former Palestinian minister Ziad Abu Zayyad. And in fact, the so-called "diplomatic process" and the optimism it is creating have a price, and in the not-so-distant past we already paid a high price for nurturing illusions that were shattered - see the Oslo Accords.
The illusion of the Palestinians, who saw how under Oslo the settlements were doubled and a draconian occupation regime was installed, evaporated in a violent manner, shattering the Israeli illusion that the conflict could be ended without paying the price. The current diplomatic process is liable to repeat the destructive route of Oslo, creating an illusion of progress fueled by a natural need to nurture hope, a hope that will be exploited by cynics who believe they have the power to dictate the rules of the game and decide who will lose it.
Those who are amusing themselves with the process, those who are exploiting it to promote their political aims, those who are becoming addicted to it to fulfill their heart's desire, and those who want to use it to improve their grievous condition under the occupation should all recall that it is easy to create illusions, and it is easy to err because of them. But the price will be paid by everyone, including those who are moving the process forward through mere words. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot tolerate another shattered illusion, and those who are engaging in diplomatic activity during the July-August vacation should be aware of the responsibility they are assuming.