One Little Telephone Call

Good morning, America. You suddenly woke up and decided to pressure Israel to allow elections for the Palestinian Authority to be held in East Jerusalem?

Good morning, America. You suddenly woke up and decided to pressure Israel to allow elections for the Palestinian Authority to be held in East Jerusalem? How noble of you. And how easy it was. One telephone call, two at the most, and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, a real "tough" guy, announced that Israeli was unconditionally surrendering. For months, Israel has been declaring that it absolutely opposes elections in Jerusalem, and here, with only an American telephone call, everything suddenly changes. The wolf Mofaz turned into a lamb, if not to say a chicken. Maybe you will finally understand that if you so desire, a broom can shoot and Mofaz surrenders; if the administration had really wanted, the occupation would already be behind us, and the Middle East - and the world in its wake - would look different.

A dramatic change in this bleeding region, in the form of an end to the occupation, is only possible now if one of the following three conditions is met: an especially courageous Israeli leadership; another round of bloodshed, more terrible than the previous one; or a determined American administration. The likelihood of a bold Israeli leadership here seems very faint. The possibility of another round of bloodshed is very cruel. Thus, the third path remains. The problem is that peace in the Middle East is not a top priority for the president who is sitting in the White House. In fact, it does not interest him at all. He also just makes lofty speeches about the war on terror, declaring futile wars in the most inappropriate places and failing to do what is required of him in the most appropriate place.

If the American president wanted to bring peace to the region and remove the basis for one of the important engines of international terror, he could have done this long ago. Massive American pressure would prod Israel into withdrawing from the occupied territories. In this way, America would not only be liberating the world from one of the most threatening sources of conflict, but it would also save Israel, its faithful ally, from itself. Imagine the president announcing that Israel should withdraw from all of the territories by a certain date. Would Israel defy him? Sounds too simplistic, imaginary? It would be much easier than it seems.

History has proved that Israel never withdraws from its hard-line positions except after bloodshed and, in one case (the Sinai campaign), after massive international pressure. A peace accord with Egypt was signed only after the Yom Kippur War, despite the possibility of achieving an interim agreement prior to the war; the withdrawal from Lebanon happened only after the blood of hundreds of soldiers was shed in vain; and the same is true regarding the recognition of the PLO and the Oslo Accords, which only came into being after the bloodshed of the first intifada.

The events of the past months have clearly demonstrated that every time the U.S. pressures Israel, even slightly, the latter immediately capitulates. It is enough to remember the demand for Israeli supervision of the Rafah crossing (which was also shelved after a quick telephone call), the Israeli commitment to finally operate the "safe passage" between Gaza and the West Bank (which was attained overnight during a visit to Jerusalem by the American secretary of state, and has not been implemented only because the U.S. lost interest in it), and the elections in East Jerusalem. On the other hand, every time America kept quiet, Israel hurt itself and hindered peace by building more and more settlements, by the route it demarcated for the separation wall, by incarcerating the Palestinians and by exerting excessive force.

The laugh of fate is that the more hawkish that Israel's leaders are portrayed, the more fearful they become of the United States. This reached a peak during Ariel Sharon's tenure: There has never been an Israeli statesman who was more fearful of American pressure. The disengagement was also born, among other reasons, in an effort to please the administration.

But the dismantling of several "illegal" outposts in the West Bank, and even the exalted disengagement, were modest steps compared to what is really required. Still at hand is the Israeli occupation in its full cruelty and hopelessness, and apparently only America is capable of announcing its denouement. In light of the absolute dependence of the Israeli economy and army on the U.S., this is a possible mission - were it not for the fact that the last president one could expect to do this is sitting in the White House.

The elections for the Palestinian Authority will be held in East Jerusalem because this is what Washington wanted. How much better this would have been if Israel had proposed this on its own initiative, as a confidence-building gesture. But this language, the language of goodwill, has never been the vernacular in Jerusalem. Therefore, it only remains to hope for a bold American president who will know how to overcome pressures from the powerful Jewish and Christian lobbies, who will understand that a true friend, concerned for the future of Israel, is only one who brings about the dismantling of all settlements, and that a fearless warrior against international terror, who truly wants to strike a blow against one of its important infrastructures, is only one who puts an end to the Israeli occupation of 38 years. The good news is that this is possible. The bad news is that there is no way George Bush will be this bold president. He has already fulfilled his role in this region: He commended Ehud Olmert for his "courage."