Looking Back in Anger

Golda Meir used to say at least this about them, that they "aren't nice." And for a change, we can say that she was right: On the basis of the Koran, they deny Israel's right to exist and want to destroy it by terror, relying on "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," among other things. Even an Israeli who favors compromise cannot deny it: It is hard to live with people who believe that God commands them to destroy you; anyone who relies on "The Protocols" is an anti-Semitic scoundrel, or at best, an idiot.

But Golda Meir also refused to talk to the Palestine Liberation Organization; she didn't even recognize the very existence of the Palestinian people. She was not the only one. In July 1974, a short time after Meir resigned, several government ministers suggested talking to "any Palestinian element," on condition that it recognize Israel, accept UN Security Council Resolution 242 and not engage in terror. In the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this proposal is known as the "Yariv-Shem Tov formula." The Rabin government rejected the proposal. Victor Shem Tov was the health minister; he was among the leaders of the United Workers' Party (Mapam). The late Aharon Yariv, earlier a major general and the head of Military Intelligence, served as a minister in the Meir and Rabin governments. They consolidated their positions separately.

Israelis and Palestinian had spoken before, but the "formula" was still considered something subversive and dangerous. In February 1977, there was a proposal to bring it up for yet another discussion in the government, but Yitzhak Rabin put off the topic till "next week," thus burying it. The victory of Hamas provides a reason this week to study this affair once again. One of its heroes, Victor Shem Tov, is presently celebrating his 90th birthday.

Immediately after the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel tried to hold talks with many "respected people" in the territories. For a while, at the time, Rabin even supported the establishment of a Palestinian state. But as the appetite for settlements grew, and as the Palestinians consolidated their national leadership under Yasser Arafat, refused to recognize Israel and engaged in hijacking planes - Israel looked for all kinds of collaborators who would agree to accept the occupation, and at the same time preferred to talk to Jordan's King Hussein.

In hindsight, there is something astonishing in the illusions of those days, that the PLO could be ignored indefinitely. At a certain point, any contact with the organization was even prohibited, and Israeli peace activists were sent to prison because they violated this ban. They paved the way to Oslo.

"In the direct dialogue that they held with Arafat for years, private citizens - such as Uri Avnery, Lova Eliav, Matti Peled, Dr. Yaakov Arnon, Abie Nathan, Latif Dori and others - undoubtedly made their own contribution to the process of PLO moderation," wrote Shem Tov in his memoirs.

Rabin invited Shem Tov to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in December 1994. Shem Tov arrived in a historical mood. He sat next to former chief of staff Mordechai Gur. Wouldn't it have been possible to reach an agreement with the PLO 25 years earlier, wondered Shem Tov. Gur said that maybe not 25 years earlier, but he told Shem Tov that 15 years earlier he himself had also supported the idea that it was necessary to talk to the PLO. Shem Tov was amazed: 15 years!

Those were wasted years. The victory of Hamas brings the disappointment of the past decade to a climax. The occupation continues. Arafat stole the billions that he received from the world, and Ehud Barak channeled more and more settlers to the territories. Then came the second intifada, and Ariel Sharon, and with him the view that permanent borders can be achieved without negotiating over them with the Palestinians, all in the spirit of Golda Meir. She also hovers over the government declaration that Israel will not talk to Hamas.

Today there is a generation of Israelis and Palestinians who are allowed to look back in anger, mainly at the terrible waste of time, and to tell their leaders clearly: We have no desire and no time to wait another 25 years until Israel and Hamas once again discover the basic truths that the Land of Israel must be divided into two nation states, and that it can't be done without talks.