Peace Will Be Found in Damascus, Not Ramallah

No imminent breakthrough in Palestinian relations; a breakthrough with Syria must be initiated.

Some positive murmurings could be heard in Jerusalem this week. While the media is taking potshots at Sara Netanyahu without letup, her husband believes that he's approaching something of a breakthrough. People close to the prime minister predict that negotiations with the Palestinians will resume soon; the time has not yet been set, but it may be March or April.

The format has also not been decided on, with both indirect talks and shuttle trips possible. But according to the prevailing thinking, the pressure that the Americans, Europeans and Arabs are applying on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is beginning to bear fruit. The chances are good that, one year late, a diplomatic dialogue between him and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will finally begin.

It's not clear whether this Israeli optimism has a leg to stand on. But it's clear that even if the process gets underway, it will soon reach a dead end. It will be good if the two sides start talking and prevent an outbreak of violence, but it's very unlikely that they can reach a peace agreement. An Israeli prime minister committed to the integrity of Jerusalem and a Palestinian president committed to the sanctity of the right of return cannot get very far. Even if they begin, there's no way they will be able to make a deal.

When the Oslo process was at its height, a right-wing intellectual irked his left-wing friends by comparing Israel's peace movement to a girl trying to seduce a gay man. It caught the Palestinians' eye, but they never responded, they received a phone number but never called, they were invited to the bedroom but never showed up. They're simply not interested. Peace just doesn't do it for them. The two-state solution doesn't turn them on. But the peaceniks still don't get what their non-partner has made clear in a thousand and one ways. They go on stalking someone who has no interest in them. They want to be loved by someone who has no love to give.

A lot of water has flowed down the Yarkon River since our right-winger came up with his metaphor. The peace movement has melted away, several peace-making experiments have failed. But the one-sided-courtship syndrome has endured. Israelis, Europeans and Americans continue to waste precious time trying to get the Palestinians into the bridal bed, even though they don't want to go there. They put on their powder, makeup and perfume to try to arouse the Palestinians' peace-process libido, but there is no such thing. Although this unrequited love is already 20 years old, it won't die down. Paradoxically, it helps perpetuate the occupation.

After 20 years, there is a clear conclusion: To really partition the country, a new diplomatic strategy is called for. Coordinated unilateral processes must be launched that will constrict the occupation while building a new Palestinian society. It must be understood that only after most Palestinians are living in a free space of their own that offers them a sane existence will the conditions ripen to enable them to choose true peace.

But there is also another clear conclusion: There will be no dramatic breakthrough on the Palestinian track in the near future, so a breakthrough on the Syrian track must be initiated. Because of the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the only chance for generating change lies in the north. There is no certainty at all that peace is in the offing. But if it is, it is to be found not in Ramallah but in Damascus.

The problem is basically political. Peace with Syria has no party and no leader. And it has no libido. Oddly, the remnants of the Israeli left relate to peace with Syria like some kind of stepchild. Their passion is for the Palestinians, not the Syrians. The ardent courting is all aimed at the disinterested Palestinians. Even today, Israel is expending most of its peace-seeking energy on a useless effort to cajole the wrong neighbor.

The time has come to reset the system and change course. To forestall the evil rising in the east, every effort must be made to enter a dialogue with Syrian President Bashar Assad. To avert a horrendous war, not a stone on the road to Damascus should be left unturned. To offer hope to the Middle East, the prospects held out by the secular regime in Syria must be exhausted. It may be that at the end of the day, the Syrians, too, will turn their backs on us, but every day that goes by without an effort to reach peace with Syria is a day marked by criminal negligence.