Days of Wine and Butter

The willingness of NATO countries to contribute forces to secure a buffer zone in the Golan Heights, if the area is evacuated, will be good for Israel, Syria and peace.

Two senior officers, an Israeli and an Italian, were dining in Tel Aviv recently when the Italian made a toast to compliment the friendship between their countries. "We, the Mediterraneans, are people of oil and wine," he said, contrasting Israelis, Italians, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Greeks and Turks with the "people of beer and butter" from Northern Europe. It was an interesting observation, especially from the perspective of another guest at the table, still recovering from the strange exhibits at Stockholm's military museum. They can briefly be summed up as stating that much of humankind has advanced from being savages such as Vikings to nonintervention in World War II, from oppressing homosexuals to taking pride in them (two kings and a queen in Swedish history), and from chimpanzees to Swedish women.

Another foreign officer, a well-traveled man, was thrilled to describe how surprised he was on his first visit to Israel when he saw from the plane "how small the distance was from the sea to the Green Line, just 15 kilometers." The understanding here is limited to military needs. Another nation in this land also has olives for making oil, even if it is not always allowed to harvest them. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees the settlements as an asset rather than a burden (and even if he has some heretical thoughts on the matter he'll never admit to it). And he has no chance of convincing anyone on the diplomatic front. For this matter, there's little difference between settlement blocs and crumbs, or between wine sippers and beer drinkers.

The controversy over Gilo, for instance, is rooted in the illusion that the name Jerusalem can be used for anything - an old and clumsy trick by two General Staff officers back in 1967 who drew a large circle around small Jerusalem. It's just an empty shell. Looking from Metzudat Adumim, the blustery headquarters of Yehuda Yehoshua, the Border Police's commander for the Jerusalem area, you easily see that 80 of the 200 kilometers of fence around Jerusalem are still missing, and that outside the fence no one really holds any sovereignty. Some "Jerusalem" neighborhoods like Shoafat experience Israeli sovereignty for about two days every year, in the form of massive surprise raids by hundreds of soldiers and police.

In the years in which it moved toward peace and security in exchange for land, Israel managed to overcome the Arab boycott. It's now facing a Western boycott - a product of the ongoing settlement project supported by the Israel Defense Forces. No propaganda can ever make palatable the sight of a Golani soldier prohibiting Palestinian women from using a plank to walk across a puddle. (It's only for soldiers, he explained.) An Israel within the 1967 borders, amended by mutual agreement, can be defended, both militarily and politically. Anything in excess of that is more than Israel can chew on.

This is true about both the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Netanyahu needs just one more little push to go headfirst off the cliff and try to stir things up in the north, to weaken the Iranian front and avoid progress on the Palestinian track. Last week, Fred Hof, George Mitchell's man for Syria and Lebanon, visited Israel again for a meeting with Netanyahu's team. Mitchell himself will visit Damascus next month. Jean-David Levitte, adviser to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, will also begin deepening the Syrian track.

Back in Israel, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and National Security Advisor Uzi Arad are actively pushing to tighten the already close Israel-NATO ties; Netanyahu wants to be the first Israeli prime minister to make an official visit to NATO's headquarters in Brussels, in March. Last week the chairman of NATO's Military Committee, Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, paid a visit; this week, NATO's deputy secretary general, Claudio Bisogniero, is expected to arrive. Both are Italian and friendly, but the alliance's new and energetic secretary general, Denmark's Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is just as open to deepening cooperation between NATO and the Mediterranean countries.

The willingness of NATO countries to contribute forces to secure a buffer zone in the Golan Heights, if the area is evacuated, will be good for Israel, Syria and peace. As an opening shot, NATO, with the approval of its member states, could look into letting Syria join the Mediterranean dialogue that already includes Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the North African countries. Damascus has oil and wine, too. All that's missing to raise a toast to an agreement is some political courage.