The big show at summer vacation's end is not about settlements or their freeze, nor about the peace process or simply the future. It is fringe theater called "Netanyahu." He can be pressured, bent, he is flexible, someone who has lost all his principles, defrauded his constituency, betrayed the right and deserted to the left. All because "the man with no qualities" is freezing settlement construction.
This street show comes up every time an ideologue begins to behave like a statesman. It happens when he comes to realize, as if struck by lightning, that what you see from here is really nothing like what you see from there.
Benjamin Netanyahu played this role the last time he was prime minister. He remembers the Hebron Accord by heart and also the five words - "two states for two peoples," which he only learned to say some weeks ago. But we must admit that Netanyahu knows how to be pressured, and that is a great skill. A moment before a clash with the U.S. and the big bang that would follow, he steered clear. Indeed, the big mouths of the right will chop him to bits. The wise guys of the Yesha Council, the shadow government, will show him. But Netanyahu has already done his part.
Netanyahu, however, is not the story, nor is it his backtracking on his ideology in the face of reality. Ideologies are always negotiating with their clientele. The question now is what next? After the cranes are greased so they don't rust over the coming weeks, the scaffolding will stand abandoned, and the "natural growth" industry in the settlements will take a short vacation. It will then be the turn of the real show.
Without a wise American plan accompanying the policy contractors who are hungry to perform, without a Palestinian partner who is willing to sign an agreement and in the absence of an Arab chorus supporting from the background, the months of the freeze will be for naught. What is worse, once the hiatus in construction comes to an end, it will be impossible to persuade anyone to adopt another construction freeze. It's a case of all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Netanyahu goes for the freeze, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is ready to meet with him, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is talking about a de facto Palestinian state in two years, Syrian President Bashar Assad wants negotiations and the U.S. has shown us its teeth. But this is a still life in need of energy. For example, when the leaders of Qatar and Oman allow the immediate return of Israeli missions there, when Israel's prime minister or president is invited to Morocco, when Mubarak comes for a visit, when the prime minister of Turkey announces his visit to Jerusalem - these won't be confidence-building gestures but an integral part of negotiation tactics, where the ball must never stay too long in any one court.
Israel is going with the freeze? Now it's the turn of the Arabs. Abbas has the most difficult task: to designate "his Jerusalem" in a size that will be acceptable to Israel and to formulate a complex equation defining the future of the refugees.
We have already seen every possible formula for a solution, the demands are known and so is the price. Obama's plan cannot invent a unique trick. In the end, and quickly, the political accountants will have to sit down at the table and talk numbers. How many out of the 300,000 settlers will remain in their homes, where will the border pass, how much will the evacuation cost, how will the compensation for the refugees be calculated, how many refugees will be absorbed in Palestine and how many others in Arab states? And the Golan Heights is also on the table. There will be no comprehensive peace without resolving the Syrian-Israeli conflict.
There is a lot of room for confidence-building measures. Not of the Palestinians toward Israel and Israel toward the Palestinians, but of the Israeli government toward its citizens and the Palestinian government toward its own. The Israelis must be presented with a new map of Israel and they must be told how much land Israel will annex - not what it is about to "lose," as if it was Israel's in the first place. This will be the map of the Palestinian state that Abbas will have to sell to his citizenry. This is a real road map. Without it, one can begin pulling pages off the calendar and wait patiently for the nine months to go by to learn this was a false pregnancy.
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