Don't Worry, There Won't Be Peace

It's not possible for the strongest kid and the weakest kid in the neighborhood to conduct talks on reconciliation and friendship when the talks are based on arm wrestling.

About two weeks before the Israel Navy's confrontation with the Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla, a radio interviewer asked me how the matter would be dealt with. "The more force we need to use, the greater our loss will be," I replied.

I feel the same on the eve of the talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The more force we exert in the negotiations in Washington, the greater our failure will be. It's supposed to be good that direct talks are beginning. The problem is that they will not result in peace. It's not because we don't need peace. Without peace with the Palestinians, we're just about hopeless. But it won't come.

Achieving peace requires an entirely different approach by the Israeli leadership. The Israeli government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman can't shake the sense that it is going to fight over peace with Abbas - a war over territory in the West Bank, a war over Jerusalem, a war over the Palestinian refugees. If we don't entirely change this approach by making a complete political and diplomatic U-turn, the talks will fail.

If the intent is to begin a struggle with the Palestinians in the presence of the Americans and the world, it will be a waste of everyone's time. In such a case it's clear to everyone that we will "win." Who is Abbas compared to us? Where are his fighter jets? Where are his submarines? Where is his Dimona nuclear facility? Where is his elite special operations force? Where are his connections in the U.S. Congress? And if he really gets us mad, we can always stop transferring him funds altogether.

It's not possible for the strongest kid and the weakest kid in the neighborhood to conduct talks on reconciliation and friendship when the talks are based on arm wrestling. It's absolutely clear who will win. But there will be no peace or reconciliation after the strong one beats the weak. It's like the case of the Turkish flotilla. The so-called victor in the tussle is the main loser.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu is our only hope at the moment. He has positioned himself before the Israeli public as the country's No. 1 patriot. He has no real rival in the political sphere. Israel is thriving economically, in large part thanks to him. He is capable of leading Israel to peace, but not with the fighting spirit he is bringing to Washington. Going into peace talks in a warlike mood presents greater risks than opportunities. The failure of the talks could turn the West Bank into another Gaza Strip and Abbas into Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas - and that's without mentioning the international implications.

We have to talk in Washington rather than threaten, to plan (together ) rather than manipulate things, to convince and be convinced, all with the knowledge that we have no alternative to this process. We have a lot more to lose from the talks' failure than the Palestinians do. At worst, they are liable to remain without a state of their own, but we are liable to lose the one we have. We won't physically lose it, but its identity will be lost along with its mission as the state of the Jewish people.

Mr. Prime Minister, only one person in the world can fail in these talks, and his name is Benjamin Netanyahu. If there is success, you will have to share the Nobel Peace Prize with Abbas and special U.S. envoy George Mitchell. If there is failure, it will be yours alone. And your failure, Mr. Prime Minister, will not be our failure, it will be our disaster. Because, for the time being, I don't see the U-turn that is needed, I don't believe there will be peace. Get ready for the commission of inquiry.


The writer was director general of the Foreign Ministry during Ehud Barak's term as prime minister.