Peace of No Choice

Because of their difficulties, Olmert and Assad talk of peace or at least of negotiations to achieve peace. It is best to take them seriously.

There is still something encouraging in the unending effort to reject as impractical the peace process in general, and with the Syrians in particular. Because such rejection is not based on a lack of a need for peace, or its high cost and the absence of threats. The realization of the peace process is a figment of our imagination, say the rejectionists, because the leaders are not adequate. The encouraging element here is the recognition that the leadership that must deal with the most important element of the country's existence is pathetic. Thus, the next time we want peace, we will be wise enough to select a leader with a more advanced technical makeup - a sort of Ben-Gurion. Regarding war, by the way, we do not have such high requirements. Any average leader or less can, from our point of view, start one.

Since only super-leaders with enormous charisma and deep insight are capable of making peace, Ehud Olmert, Bashar Assad and Recep Tayyip Erdogan are disqualified. Olmert's drowning in a sea of investigations needs no proof. For his part, Assad lost Lebanon, trapped himself in an unhealthy relationship with Iran, separated Syria from the United States and managed to pick a fight with nearly every Arab state. Erdogan has a short fuse and a big mouth, of the sort that may be his and his party's demise because it is on trial for revoking the law barring women from wearing head scarfs. Each of these leaders invested a significant amount of stupidity to put himself where he is, and all three are like circus illusionists who disappear after they perform their "peace trick." What we face, say the wise ones, is nothing more than a public-relations spin, and we are well-versed in dealing with spin.

However, in this well-tested, routine equation, which asserts that peace at the moment is mere spin, the most important element has gone missing. The peace process, whether with the Palestinians or the Syrians, did not arise because of the leaders, but in spite of them. One intifada that broke out because the Palestinian people were unwilling to bear the conditions of their existence led to the Oslo Accords. One recalls that the agreement was shaped not by the leaders but by the dreamers. The disengagement from the Gaza Strip was seen at the time as a huge act by a statesman, but it resulted from unbearable circumstances in which half the army protected some 7,000 settlers. The negotiations between Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas resulted from the second intifada, as have the negotiations with Hamas.

As such, if it is "accepted" that the sides are talking because of their difficult circumstances, and not because of their wisdom, then it is precisely these circumstances that can lead the processes to fruition. The spin, on the basis of this hopeful thought, has a life of its own.

According to the spin theory, each of the leaders is holding on to the peace process to extricate himself from his difficult circumstances. Olmert aspires to become untouchable, Assad wants to be the new Arab hero, and Erdogan needs to prove to secular Turks that he can provide Turkey with a regional stature that no one before him has achieved.

Their difficulties may prove to be the mother of all inventions, and under the right circumstances can also offer various strategic results. One of them is a change in the definitions. For example, instead of that worn-out concept that war is a last resort, a new outlook will be adopted that will say peace is the result of no alternatives, both on the personal level for those leaders needing a lifeline, and certainly on the national level. Olmert or Assad, weak leaders who sit in the swamps they have made for themselves, do not need to raise doubts about their ability to make peace.

After all, they are precisely the sort of leaders to whom we have no problem attributing a willingness (read, madness) to go to war because of their difficulties. They are the ones capable of convincing us during a televised address that the upcoming war is necessary, unavoidable - a war of no choice. Luckily, they are in a different position. Because of their difficulties they talk of peace or at least of negotiations to achieve peace. It is best to take them seriously - to force them to adhere to their own spin and make them play it out. They can. These are leaders who no longer have anything to lose.