Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have a Flop

Before the Israeli leadership asks the Palestinians to change their attitude, it must first undergo a dramatic psychological and ideological change of its own.

A parallel can be drawn between these days, before the Annapolis summit, and the hours that preceded the decision to embark on the Second Lebanon War. Just like that fateful July 12, 2006, when the government felt it had no choice but to attack Hezbollah, Ehud Olmert is now leading the country to an international meeting in the United States, assuming he has no choice. Just as the abduction of two soldiers drove the prime minister and his colleagues to squeeze the trigger, now the security and political circumstances have set them on a path of no return to Annapolis. The two efforts are very likely to have similar results: bitter disappointment.

In retrospect, we know the government had short-term motives for attacking Hezbollah: the desire for vengeance, the need to respond to public sentiment, the genuine sense that Hezbollah had crossed all lines, and the belief that Israel could restore its deterrence this way. In retrospect, it is obvious that the government suffered from a serious lack of understanding: It was not aware to what degree the Israel Defense Forces' preparedness had deteriorated; it did not take into account the effect of Hezbollah's ability to strike the home front; and it was completely mistaken in its assessment on restoring the IDF's deterrent capability.

To a certain extent, it appears the same syndrome is leading to the Annapolis conference: It is meant to relieve immediate pressures, lacks any chance of achieving long-term results, and is mostly meant to serve the political needs of some of its main participants. There is one difference between the two events: At Annapolis, the limited result is known in advance, so there are apparently no expectations of disappointment. Herein lies the catch.

The gloomy forecasts by the Defense Minister, Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet on what may follow the Annapolis summit are meant to let them say, "We told you so." They need this alibi to save them from any complaints the day after the summit. The defense establishment has announced that the Palestinians, and the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayad, will not budge from the positions set by Yasser Arafat. They, too, are demanding the right of return, an Israeli withdrawal to the final centimeter of territory, and claim all of East Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, as part of their capital. The problem is that even if this assessment is perfectly accurate, it reflects not only the intelligence on the Palestinian position but also the psychological and ideological state of its Israeli authors. It proves that the Israeli leadership, too, has not changed its approach to the Palestinians and its willingness to reach a comprehensive settlement with them.

Under the leadership of Olmert, who speaks about peace in a way his predecessors never did, there is an ingrained, stiff outlook, manifested by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, that does not allow the Palestinians to soften their positions. This starting point means Israeli decision makers have created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Moreover, Olmert's coalition partners, Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu, have forbidden him from mentioning the core issues on the agenda, and from discussing them in the summit's concluding statement. Other political farces of this kind do not readily come to mind: the Israelis and Palestinians are in a bitter conflict that is resulting in continuous bloodshed. It revolves around the question of borders, the future of Jerusalem and the right of return. Here are Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai, barring the Israeli delegation to the peace summit from discussing these issues and even from mentioning them. This is like telling Olmert: Go to Annapolis and talk about the weather. This is the most blatant expression of the fact that since the Yitzhak Shamir government, Israel's positions have not essentially changed.

Before the Israeli leadership asks the Palestinians to change their attitude, it must first undergo a dramatic psychological and ideological change of its own. The blindness to the need for such immediate change, as the government prepares to negotiate peace, is similar to how the IDF's deterioration was ignored on the eve of the war.