Going Through the Motions

If we probe deeply into our hearts, even the hearts of the center-left, it's doubtful we will find any burning passion for that peace people wax lyrical over in the annual Yahrzeit at Rabin Square.

The only remarkable thing in the latest "our desire is for peace" speeches - which President Shimon Peres delivered in the Turkish Parliament and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is delivering before the Annapolis conference - has been the speakers' ability to continue to talk without their tongues sticking to the roofs of their mouths or their heads dropping off in boredom.

These cliches have been recited by our leaders since the waning years of the last century: "Negotiations that are to the point, dignified and daring," "a willingness to discuss all the issues," "the conference will constitute a milestone in the realization of the vision," "with all of the opportunities and all of the dangers," "we shall not avoid fulfilling our obligations" (from Olmert's remarks this week). These phrases have become so battered and hollow they nearly physically harm the listener, and it appears that only two compulsive chatterboxes like Olmert and Peres are still able to bear their burden.

The former, with that semiautomatic verbal polish with which a sharp lawyer appears to be thoroughly convinced by his own eloquent statement, and the latter with that same prettified nonchalance with which an amateur poet helps himself to "poetic license." Thus Peres was able not only, to the point of disgust, to flatter Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud "Abu Mazen" Abbas (who remained insultingly dogmatic) and to fulminate endlessly about "the New Middle East." He also made ceremonious mention of "Oslo" as a factor that "changed the routine of the Middle East."

It did change the Middle East, and in a big way. But in what direction? Here, even Peres watched his words. Had words of truth been spoken instead of high-flown phrases, it is possible it would have emerged - in light of our bitter experience of "striving for a permanent-status solution" and "discussion of the core issues" - that "a change in routine" is perceived nowadays in our part of the world as a threat, not a hope.

There is a sense the Israeli public and its leaders have fallen in love with this "routine," or are at least clinging to it as a default option that is less awful than the others. This is especially the case because it has become clear that when you "leave no stone unturned on the road to peace" - as former prime minister and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak promised before Camp David and on the eve of the intifada - all the dormant scorpions that are lurking under the stones will awaken, both Jewish and Arab.

It is true that the more caring, or the more cunning, of our leaders continue to "go through the motions," as the Americans would say, with dovish agendas and fine speeches and schlepping to conferences and flipping the switch to the Syrian option every time we are pushed into the Palestinian option. But if we were to probe deeply into our hearts, even the hearts on the center-left, it is doubtful we would find any burning passion for that utopian peace that people wax lyrical over in the annual Yahrzeit at Rabin Square.

"So just sing out a song for the successful management of the conflict" and not necessarily a "song for peace." After all, this in essence is also the nimbus that glowed around former prime minister Ariel Sharon in unprecedented public support. Not because he promised anything, certainly not "peace," not even a trace of an "agreement," but because he cunningly manipulated the "routine of the Middle East" while evading the stones in the road if necessary, kicking them and moving them if necessary and "going through the motions of a diplomatic process" if necessary.

His successors are trying to continue this way, and will keep on trying. But our fixation on "the routine of the Middle East" is a contingent love that could evaporate in a moment. A survey conducted not too long ago proved what we do not dare say aloud: The Israeli public states nonchalantly obdurate opinions as long it enjoys the luxury of relative quiet, but shows a willingness for far-reaching diplomatic compromise when the blood is flowing; for example, at the height of the intifada and terror.

Of this characteristic the national poet Chaim Nachman Bialik has already said when writing about our people: "It will not wake up if we are not awakened by the whip, it will not arise if we are not aroused by robbery." This time - the second, third, fourth - will it be any different? This is not certain.