Peace in the Mideast in Our Own Good Time

He who pins his hopes on the next war, which will forever be the last war and also the most successful war, until its deceit and lies are found out.

The Second Lebanon War
The Second Lebanon War, 2006. Flash 90

Who is afraid of peace? He who is less afraid of war. For in war, soldiers fall, and that is the end of life, but not the end of the world. Whereas in peace, governments fall, and that is liable to be the end of a career.

So why take unnecessary risks? If war breaks out, heaven forbid, we will all be united. But if peace breaks out – we will be divided, we will quarrel among ourselves and go from one crisis to another.

Benjamin Netanyahu learned early on how to act with responsibility and understanding, and at the outset took preventive steps against anticipated trouble. Although he could have selected a different coalition, one that would have freed him somewhat from his robust cowardice, he opted for a refusenik government, one that would assure him in advance of quiet and of a long life.

How good it is to enjoy the rough-and-tumble friendship of Naftali Bennett and Uri Ariel, who are adept at swiftly dispatching any threats of a peace agreement that might appear on the horizon, and how pleasant is the touch of the supple Tzipi Livni as fig leaf. Not to mention Yair Lapid – a “brother,” in the same vein as “how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.”

Only it’s a shame, such a shame, that Shimon Peres is retiring now, and the voice of peace emanating from Jerusalem will go mute. It was a particularly comfortable arrangement: As long as President Shimon was around, who would dare portray our Israel as warmongering?

Netanyahu has learned from his own experience, but mainly from the experience of others: Taking action is usually more dangerous than failing to take action. Do not fear the idlers, do not fear the talkers; only the doers. Watch me and do as I do, and you will be assured of at least four years in office. Peace – which by nature is tolerant and easygoing – will wait. It isn’t running anywhere, and even if it dawdles – it will eventually come, at the end of days. No one wants peace as much as we do.

We never believed in peace now, but rather always in peace later. “Better late than …” is liable to turn out, after the fact, as coming too late, or even as never coming. By their nature, if diplomatic opportunities are not grabbed by the horns in time, their tails can also slip away.

But who are we to complain, at all, and to complain about Bibi and Avigdor and Naftali and Tzipi, in particular? Our situation has never been better, and even the Chinese are campaigning to share in our successes. And, finally, after many years of sterile and unnecessary quarreling among ourselves, this government is accurately expressing the deep-seated feelings of the public.

Who’s afraid of peace? What are you talking about? But please understand, there are priorities in life, so why go and spoil something that is working just fine? Why make waves when the sea is calm and the weather fine and the horizons open and promising?

We would be better off focusing on making an internal correction, on rearranging the house: The cost of living is more important and more urgent than the cost of life. Is it such a big deal that we are periodically served up as cannon fodder, when we will soon be able to pay less for red meat?

Netanyahu is seeing the payoff for his long, hard work. All of his strutting and fretting upon the stage has been heard, full of sound and fury. Not for naught did he sow the seeds of his nightmares which he draws from his father’s home, if not from Sara’s. And the seed has germinated: Obviously we long for peace, but not with these treacherous partners. Not now and not here; Neither the time nor the place are right for us.

Mercifully, public opinion, by and large, is like a weather vane that discerns the shifting direction of the wind. Netanyahu is the one who brings in the foul wind and brings down the acid rain; that’s what he is. Public opinion is like clay in the hands of he who speaks: It says what it’s been told to say. Public opinion is like shifting sand; a slight breeze blows it somewhere else.

Israel has had its share of about-faces that occurred in the twinkling of an eye: Menachem Begin heads off to Camp David swearing his allegiance and commitment to all of the settlements of the Yamit salient, without exception. He is determined not to relinquish a single settlement. Upon his return, he himself will live among these new darlings of our society, wherever they may be. And public opinion – over 90 percent – joins him on his resolute mission, and supports him unreservedly.

Begin returns, stooped over, after having agreed to pull out from all of the settlements, demolish them and withdraw to the international border, up to the last centimeter. That is what happens to maximalists, who insist on conceding the minimum under unmitigated pressure, under coercive threat or force. Israel has made all of its diplomatic concessions only when it found itself on the way to the slaughterhouse, only when it had no more room to maneuver. And public opinion? It always sides with those who shape it, because the people are wise, not imbeciles.

Not to mention wars, which at the outset are received with immense enthusiasm, until they grow too long, since wars tend to go rotten the longer they continue. The first supporters are the first to grow weary of them; those who didn’t ask any questions beforehand suddenly remember to ask after the fact.

Who is afraid of peace? He who pins his hopes on the next war, which will forever be the last war and also the most successful war, until its deceit and lies are found out.

And now the bon ton is to ridicule “peace,” a word that is itself indecent. Maybe it’ll take 100 years, but until that time, we will take “unilateral steps” – we have ideas, “we will manage the conflict.” We have tools, we will incessantly offer traditional Jewish prayers for peace, an expression of cherished yearning for the world-to-come.

There was only one time that Israel shook itself off, headed off to Oslo, and discussed and eventually signed agreements. And yet still the argument continues: Did they fail or succeed? Whatever the case may be, the Oslo Accords were necessitated by reality. The two sides had to finally recognize one another, as well as the national rights accruing to each side.

But let’s assume – for the purpose of this debate alone - that Oslo disappointed, and even exacted a cost that could be measured in human life. So? As if wars have not exacted their heavy, immeasurable cost. Here in Israel, people despair after a single serious attempt at making peace, but never despair at making war. How many wars have we had so far? And how many will there be? Only Oslo will be held up, seen in either a good light or a bad one, the only sail in the great flotilla heading for the yearned-for peace, and away from it – taking all the wind out of all the sails.

“They are afraid,” but the fear and the sweat trickle down from above, at a time when Netanyahu has no clue of what to do with the freedom and responsibility placed upon him. This is the truth, Sara: I’m afraid, and you’re afraid, too. What is going to happen? Will the two of us remain alone, sitting in the dark? Can peace extend its hand from the hole in which I’ve stuck it, can peace get past the shut door? If left with no other choice, I will get up to open the door for it. But, hey, nobody is there, we have spooked ourselves in vain. Now we can go outside and lounge on our new garden furniture.

Yossi Sarid is a columnist for Haaretz

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