Breaking the Words

How many times have we been witness to summit conferences, handshakes, solemn phraseology - and to the explosion of terrorist bombs afterward? Furthermore, how many times have we 'triumphed over terrorism' and how many times has 'the occupation ended' without anything actually happening?

"How many times have you counted to 10 but nothing happened?" That chorus from a song by Rafi Persky could also be the motto for the political developments in our region, and especially for the most dramatic and "historic" of them. Indeed, how many times have we been witness to summit conferences, handshakes, solemn phraseology - and to the explosion of terrorist bombs afterward? Furthermore, how many times have we "triumphed over terrorism" and how many times has "the occupation ended" without anything actually happening?

Who can count the number of times we have experienced, with all our soul and all our might, almost as though it were reality, the cyclical, seasonal simulations in which we "left the territories"? The endless number of times in which settlers and bewigged women were asked on "Popolitika" whether and how they would resist forcibly when the settlements would be dismantled in the near future, and offered their standard replies citing Auschwitz, treason and civil war?

How many times have we already "said farewell to the Golan and the Hermon" in numberless atmospheric articles tinged with melancholy, even addressing the smallest details of the compensation the evacuees will get? And how many times have we planned "to eat hummus in Damascus"?

The fact that none of this has happened does not stop us from being disappointed anew at the reaction of the Arabs and at the world's attitude toward our activity. After all, we are right on the brink of stopping the occupation, we are just about to dismantle settlements, we are leaving the Golan imminently, whereas on their side there is nothing: the same intransigence, the same hatred.

From this point of view, the asymmetry between us and the Palestinians is certainly appalling: Israel makes concessions and backtracks step by step - sometimes in the declarative sphere - and the Palestinians don't budge by a millimeter. Even the most hallucinated elements on the right have abandoned the idea of "both banks of the Jordan"; the vision of "not one inch" has long since been eroded; and even ideas such as partitioning Jerusalem or returning to the Green Line are no longer taboo; not to mention the very idea of a Palestinian state - until recently considered an abomination and now at the heart of the consensus.

So what remains of all the terrifying constraints, all the they-shall-not-pass principles, all the hills and valleys for which we were willing to lay down our lives over the decades - from the Mitla Pass to the Beaufort and Jenin? All that's left is this wretched remnant: expectation of a declaration by the Americans and the Palestinians that we are a "Jewish state"; and if we don't get a concession on the right of return, or at least a war against terrorism, then let's at least strike a deal involving a Palestinian state in return for a respite in our being murdered on the streets and in cafes.

As for the Palestinians, after all the defeats, poundings, "consciousness searing" and destruction of infrastructure - with them the "hill does not budge." Even the most moderate are sticking to the same basic principles, the same stubbornness that Arafat - the invincible, the personification of non-budging - likes to repeat defiantly three times, as though turning a knife in a wound: shaheeds, Jerusalem, right of return. And anyone who doesn't like it can go drink the sea at Gaza.

Thus, only those who understand how deeply subordinated we are to words and concepts will understand the scale of our disappointment at the Palestinians' reaction to Sharon's remarks about the "occupation" and the need to end it. Where's the symmetry? After all, we conceded everything! We said "occupation," the ultimate word, and what did we get in return for this total concession? Not only was there a refusal by the Palestinians to declare hunting season against Hamas, there was not so much as a hint of a concession of the right of return.

Meanwhile, though, one small detail has been overlooked: these are only words. With the exception of the withdrawals from Sinai and from Lebanon, most of our vast concessions and huge withdrawals have been carried out mainly at the declarative level, in a kind of simulation of reality. We said we would withdraw - "if." We said we would remove settlements - "when." In the course of time these declarations of intent have turned into a kind of fetish and substitute reality: We talk so much that we are convinced we have already done it. This is the root of the disparity between our grasp of reality and that of the international community and the Palestinians.

And hence also our ritual preoccupation with formulas and words, which can reach a truly pathetic level (such as the attorney general's wars against "dangerous" words, or the release of murdering terrorists in return for a "written promise that they will no longer engage in terrorism"). And hence also our obsession with the language of the enemy: Sometimes it seems as though it is more important for us to extract the right declaration from the Americans and the Palestinians than it is to make the right move from our point of view.

Ehud Barak, the former prime minister, despite all his controversial conduct, has at least one important achievement to his credit: He shook up our terminological thought patterns. Barak seized the mantra "We don't want to remain in Lebanon a minute longer than we have to," which had been declaimed ceaselessly for nearly 20 years, and translated it into reality by force.

Possibly the conflict with the Palestinians is also in need of similar shock treatment, all the other possibilities having been exhausted. The Americans are capable of cutting the Gordian knot, but so is an Israeli leader who will be brutal and courageous enough to do what is in any case inevitable: convert the words into reality in the West Bank and Gaza, too, and return us voluntarily to our demarcated borders. That will be for our good and for our sake and will obviate the endless waiting for a redeeming Palestinian declaration that is not likely to be forthcoming. Maybe it's time for us to count to 10 and something will really happen.