The Children's Hour

Say what one will about Sharon's intentions and motives - it cannot be denied that the man is going through certain processes, albeit under constraint and with a thousand modes of evasion.

After everything that can be said was said about Ariel Sharon's speech from the throne in Herzliya and about his "plan," with all the necessary doubts and disbelief, maybe the time has come to examine, for a change, people of whom we have even lower expectations: in fact, people from whom there are no expectations at all and from whom no sort of answer is demanded. These are the people who are stuck in the heart of the conflict without movement, without blinking, those that have a full exemption from the necessity of producing any creative idea that is not oppositional: Likud activists and supporters of the settlements on the one hand, and the Palestinian leadership on the other hand.

Say what one will about Sharon's intentions and motives - it cannot be denied that the man is going through certain processes, albeit under constraint and with a thousand modes of evasion. Something has begun to give there, to move, albeit with the creaking of a rusty hinge. In fact, "something is moving" throughout the region and across the entire political spectrum: Thinking Likudniks, such as Ehud Olmert and others, are undergoing a change; cracks are appearing within the military-security consensus; the indefatigable creativity of the "Oslo" fomenters is making a comeback; the earth is shifting; storms rage all around.

But right in the middle are the settlers and their assistant on the one side, and the Palestinian leadership on the other side: shrugging their shoulders, their eyes glazed, like Blaumlich from the Ephraim Kishon film, who decided to dig a canal in the center of Tel Aviv and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. Why get worked up? What do you want? We're not budging!

As for the Palestinian leadership, even before Sharon descended from the podium the Hanan Ashrawis and the Saeb Erekats were already popping up on CNN with the usual well-practiced look of revulsion that's prepared in advance, and with the same text that they can utter automatically in their sleep: "We were shocked ... the Zionist conspiracy ... occupation ... atrocities ... the world must protest ... reject out of hand ..."

It's always the same reject-out-of-hand conditioned reflex in regard to every idea, proposal, innovation, movement - without any counter-creativity, without even attention to changes of nuance, which they could take advantage of. From Oslo to Camp David, from Sharm el-Sheikh to Geneva, it's always the same mechanical responses: expected, barren, flagrantly uncreative. They're like customers in a restaurant who increasingly take offense the more the waiters twirl about them: Partial settlement? Phooey, disgusting. A final settlement conditional on giving up the right of return? Never. End to terrorism? Don't make us laugh. Unilateral withdrawal? The fence? Recognition of the state? Forgoing East Jerusalem? Barak's proposals? Sharon's speech? Geneva? Shlomo Ben-Ami? Even Yossi Beilin? No, it's no good, and anyway the portion is too small. It's not what we're after: not precisely 100 percent of total victory (which doesn't make clear where it will stop). Even "Geneva," from the moderate moderates, gave rise to the same uncontrollable reflex action: "The Zionist conspiracy ... occupation ... atrocities ... reject out of hand ..."

True, there is no symmetry between occupier and occupied. But how asymmetric can conceptual creativity be on the road to a compromise? If it's "no this" and "no that," then at least say what is "yes." (At this stage we usually get the scratching of the brow: "Hmmm ... let's hear what you have to offer on the menu").

If the Palestinians at least have many mitigating circumstances, it's not clear where the settlers, the annexationist parties of the right and the perpetual blockers from the Likud received an exemption even from the need to offer grounds for their opposition and their interference with every agreement and withdrawal, not to mention the formulation of an alternative proposal. They live in a kind of eternal childhood that is not bothered by unnecessary worries and trenchant questions, on the assumption that there will always be "big people" who deal with such things - with the demographic question, the international pressure, the economic and military constraints. "Big people," who can always be verbally savaged and pushed into a corner, who can be toppled in a vote, about whom nursery rhymes can be concocted ("You'll get a migraine / If you try to evacuate Migron"), while in the meantime clinging to the usual puerile "land-settlement Zionism" that never faces up to reality.

They don't pose the questions of the world of adults, such as about the character of Israel after the annexation of a million Arabs, or Israel's ability to stand fast in endless wars. They are not in favor of a "transfer." Nor of annexing the population of the territories. But they are against concessions and against partitioning the land. So what are they "for"? Their only answer is "Just like that!" (to quote Yitzhak Shamir) or, as one settler put it this week: "The practical side is none of my affair."

Poised in the face of this consciously infantile paradise are Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and a few realistic Palestinians, all of them surely envious: "That was me until not so long ago. They made me grow up. But they're having fun, they're still in nursery school. They don't have to work."