The New Converts

As soon as the spotlights are turned off, the converts to peace resume their routine without trying to advance what they preached.

It's cyclical and always happens in the same way. Once every few months another right-wing politician sees the light. Suddenly he believes that time is working against us, that the Greater Israel dream has vanished, that "painful concessions" must be made, that the Palestinians deserve a state and that the occupation must come to an end.

After the latter-day convert develops his plan, decorates it with maps and tables and readies it for presentation, he gives a "historic" speech in Herzliya or at Bar-Ilan University, or calls a big press conference, gets prime-time coverage, a supportive magazine interview and a host of articles about his "turnabout." The Arabs are increasing, the Jews are weakening - something must be done.

Well done, Arik; well done, Ehud; well done, Tzipi; well done, Dan; well done, Bibi. And the latest one - well done, Shaul. Former chief of staff and defense minister Shaul Mofaz, father of the doctrine of the targeted assassination, has joined the converts' community. The man who suggested deporting Yasser Arafat has presented a "far-reaching" peace plan, including "Israel will respect any elected Palestinian leadership and negotiate with it." As Mofaz cashes in on his plan, the next in line are already at the door. Likud ministers Gideon Sa'ar and Moshe Ya'alon are on his heels. In a year or two they will be joined by MK Tzipi Hotovely. Like them, it's not her, it's the situation that will have changed.

If it weren't so sad, it would be hilarious. No Israeli politician has gone in the opposite direction, except for Yuval Steinitz, who was a left-winger before he entered politics. The politicians' direction is always one-way - from right to left, like the Hebrew language. Shulamit Aloni never thought of moving to Ofra, Uri Avnery never changed his prophecies, which came true, Yossi Sarid never flip-flopped, and Yossi Beilin never "sobered up."

The new converts have no intention of thanking those who made the breakthrough - the people from the now defunct far-left organization Matzpen, or courageous figures like Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz. People like Leibowitz said exactly what the converts are saying now, but 42 years ago, despite the denunciation, threats and incitement they were subjected to.

Nor are the new converts thinking of apologizing to the public for their historic mistake. In Israeli society, people don't pay for fatal mistakes. Nor can they explain what really happened in the lost time that elapsed. Why did Shimon Peres need to wait a whole decade to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization? Why did he refuse, 10 years before Oslo, to shake the hand of senior PLO official Isam Sartawi, who tried to meet Peres at a conference in Lisbon moments before he was murdered? Why did Ariel Sharon have to settle tens of thousands of settlers in the territories, including the Gaza Strip, until he found that this was a dangerous and futile thing to do? And why was he never held accountable for his awful mistake? All the new converts are to blame for the dismal situation we are in, some directly and personally.

On the face of it, this is good news. Along with opinion polls showing that most Israelis support a two-state solution, it appears that those who seek peace and justice are in a clear majority. Everyone is sitting cozily in the "painful concessions" lounge. But this of course is a delusion. As soon as the spotlights are turned off and the columnists finish their praises, the converts resume their routine without lifting a finger to advance what they preached.

Ehud Olmert strove for a so-called shelf agreement, built settlements and launched two unnecessary wars. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made lofty statements about a Palestinian state and didn't agree even to a temporary settlement freeze. Mofaz suggests talking to Hamas, but it doesn't occur to him to try to do it here and now. Let's see him try to meet the elected prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh. And public opinion? It says yes to two states and votes for Likud and Avigdor Lieberman. In this great masquerade, Israel has raised denial and pretense to an art. The terrible price will be paid soon.