With a Victory Like This...

The direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have preconditions - dictated by Israel.

Two years ago, a basketball tournament was held at Tel Aviv University with the participation of student teams from 14 countries, including a Palestinian team from the occupied territories. The games were purportedly held "without preconditions," and every team put its best players on the court and aimed to win.

But unsurprisingly, the Shin Ben security service permitted only seven Palestinian players, including bench players, to enter Israel. Some of the key players on the team were compelled to stay at home. After several losses (by 30 to 40 points), when it was the Palestinians' turn to face a team from one of the Israeli colleges, their coach announced that he had decided to spare his players another humiliation, and requested that the game be canceled.

The illuminating movie "Friendship Games," to be shown tonight on the Yes Docu channel (directed by Ram Levy, along with Ibtisam Mara'ana, Duki Dror and Yoav Shamir), documents the tournament, which was the initiative of Ed Peskowitz, an American Jew and co-owner of the Atlanta Hawks basketball team in the NBA. The camera follows the Israeli coach to the Palestinian locker room. After a long while, he tells his players that in order to even out the teams, two of them will join the other side. He tells two of the Israeli bench players, including one known as Fatso, to don the shirts of the Palestinian team. The game ends with a decisive victory for the Israeli team and a strong sense of missed opportunity.

The direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, like the basketball game, have preconditions. Not the conditions demanded by the Palestinians, but conditions dictated by Israel. The refusal to freeze Israeli building in East Jerusalem is a precondition, just like the demand to freeze it. The refusal to resume negotiations from the point where talks between the previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas left off after the Annapolis conference is no less a precondition than the demand to resume talks from square one.

The head referee, the president of the United States, has twisted the arms of his colleagues in the Quartet and is dragging Abbas to Washington. Barack Obama decided that the negotiations will be held without any commitment regarding building in East Jerusalem, and will be opened without even a declaration of principles stating that the talks will be held on the basis of a general formula, like peace and security for Israel and a state along the 1967 borders for the Palestinians. It's time to jump into the fountain in Rabin Square and cheer: The Palestinians have been shafted!

If Benjamin Netanyahu's aim is to play around as much as possible with the ball, and sometimes kick the opponent, then he can really chalk up another victory. But Israel's success in the negotiations, like the success of the student team in the tournament, is not measured by the terms "victory" or "defeat." What is victory over a weak Palestinian team worth, if it was won in friendly games that ended with virtually no interaction between the participants? What is a political process with the Palestinians worth if it erodes Abbas' standing and leads nowhere?

What have we to gain from humiliating our partner before his constituency on the way to the negotiating table? If Israel's approach on every one of the core issues is that winning is everything, there's no point in bothering so many VIPs with another unnecessary summit. Let's assume that we'll succeed, with the help of the Jewish power around Obama, to twist Abbas' arm some more and extract, for example, an agreement in which he concedes sovereignty over the Temple Mount. How many hours would such an agreement last?

All we need is a few more "victories" like the invitation to the launch of direct negotiations, "without preconditions," and we'll lose our last partners to a settlement that will prevent Israel from turning into an apartheid state or a Palestinian state (the binational model is a nightmare, as far as I'm concerned).

What will we do if Abbas announces that he's had enough of losing in purportedly friendly games, and that he's decided the time has come to step down? Will we declare another victory and invite Hamas leader Khaled Meshal and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the party?