A Partnership of Equals

Mahmoud Abbas and the PA are not responsible for Israel's security; Israel's own intelligence service is.

"This shows that the Palestinian Authority is not adequately fighting terrorism," said the prime minister in reaction to the Mercaz Harav yeshiva attack. He could just as well have said that "the Shin Bet isn't adequately combating terrorism - indeed, it is failing to do so." Mahmoud Abbas and the PA are not responsible for Israel's security; Israel's own intelligence service is.

But this approach, like Olmert's accusation, does not help in any way, either in the war on terror or in reducing the fear of a new intifada arising. If anything, the prime minister's cliche shows that without the Palestinian Authority as an effective partner, there can be no effective fight against terrorism, and that a Palestinian partnership cannot be based only on air or pats on the back.

Thus, when the prime minister suggests to the members of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to "consider negotiations with Syria," and that very same day Israel decides to launch a political initiative with Egypt, you have to pinch yourself twice to make sure this isn't a hallucination. Has Israel suddenly discovered the Arab states? Wonder of wonders. Once again, by taking the new political intimations seriously, one finds they are insubstantial - the prime minister knows how to do this better than anyone else.

The prime minister sees, and rightly so, the negotiations with Syria and the initiative with Egypt as a practical move rather than the implementation of a vision or a dream. Syria can stop Hezbollah if it wishes, or at least block the weapons pipeline from Iran and other sources. Syria also has considerable influence on Hamas and Islamic Jihad, whose leaders it hosts on its territory. Making Syria a partner in Israel's war on terror is the only conceivable reasonable step today.

But Israel has the aspirations of a great nation. It is demanding that Syria sever relations with Iran. This is the main fallacy in the prime minister's intimations. Syria, like Turkey, India, Pakistan and dozens of other countries, including moderate Arab states, will not give up relations with Iran, although they are willing to fight terror.

By demanding that Syria cut off relations with Iran, Israel is reducing the chance of effective negotiations that could lead to at least a significant reduction in Hezbollah's activities against it. Hezbollah will not stop its activities completely and order a feasibility test for a Beirut-Afula railway line, but it will understand that its connection to Iran, via Damascus, has a price.

The political initiative with Egypt, aimed at enlisting its cooperation in securing the Gaza Strip border to prevent militants and explosives from passing through, also requires a fresh approach. Egypt's leadership - in contrast to its knee-jerk intellectuals, which like the Israeli radical right see a peace agreement as a historical disaster - agrees with Israel on maintaining a secure border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

But Egypt doesn't want to be the only bad guy in the story. Egypt doesn't want to pay the political price for Israel's brutal closure on the Gaza Strip. Egypt loathes Hamas, but understands that without it, no open passage at Rafah is possible. It respects the Camp David agreements, but will not be able to secure the border effectively without expanding them. It is seething at Al Jazeera, which has slammed it for not protesting Israel's attack on Gaza, but is not prepared to be the victim of the Jewish lobby in Washington, which contributed to stopping some of the American aid.

Israel has to be interested in a practical partnership with Arab states before any new policy vis-a-vis Egypt, Syria or the Palestinian Authority can be fruitful. This must be a partnership of equals, with no "positions of strength" or "positions of weakness," or the uncle who can drag America along. Unless there is some movement toward such a partnership, please don't bother us with more nonsense about "an effective war on terrorism."